#0019 San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities by Michael Shellenberger

This week I watched another of the Joe Rogan Experience podcasts. #1719 – Michael Shellenberger. A journalist and author of ‘Apocalypse Never’ who was discussing his new book ‘San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities’  in which he skewers progressives for the mishandling of America’s faltering cities. Progressives claimed they knew how to solve homelessness, inequality, and crime. But in cities they control, progressives made those problems worse.

The interview is nearly three hours long and I found it captivating, uplifting, inspiring and hopeful. 

This interview and book are US centered. However, as we know a lot of what occurs in the US filters down and we in the UK often adopt.

Michael Shellenberger has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for thirty years. During that time, he advocated for the decriminalisation of drugs, affordable housing, and alternatives to jail and prison. But as homeless encampments spread, and overdose deaths skyrocketed, Shellenberger decided to take a closer look at the problem. What he discovered shocked him. The problems had grown worse because of progressive policies. San Francisco and other West Coast cities — Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland — had gone beyond merely tolerating homelessness, drug dealing, and crime to actively enabling them. San Fransicko, reveals that the underlying problem isn’t a lack of housing or money for social programs. The real problem is an ideology that designates some people, by identity or experience, as victims entitled to destructive behaviours. The result is an undermining of the values that make cities, and civilization itself, possible.

He talks to Joe Rogan about how things shifted in regard to addicts, the homeless and those with mental illness from mass incarceration to a drug treatment model. For example if an addict faced charges for defecating on the street, public drug use, theft and so forth, that drug treatment would be mandated. To a point where the perpetrators are seen as victims who are sacred, and have to be protected from the consequences of their own behaviour. 

During the interview he refers to a country that has long been hailed as being one who handles these problems well is The Netherlands. In Amsterdam marijuana has been decriminalised since the 1970s. In the 1990s prostitution was given a similar approach. I visited for the first time two years ago. I walked around after midnight and feel perfectly safe. It’s a very liberal city. There’s nobody in the streets shooting heroin or smoking fentanyl or getting high on meth. Shellenberger believes the secret of their success is a simple system of carrots and sticks. Giving people a chance to improve their lives with known consequences for bad behaviour. What he sees is that the progressives have removed the sticks so that there are no consequences for bad behaviour. The laws just aren’t being enforced. 

He believes that The Netherlands are probably the best at it. Although, Germany and Japan do a pretty good job too.  It is looking at interventions as both compassionate but disciplined. Love is not enough. 

Later in the interview, Michael and Joe talk about what In the US they call ‘Encampments’ but in Europe are known as ‘Open Drug Scenes’.

In the 1980s there was a massive drug pandemic. Research on heroin addicts in 5 cities; Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Vienna and Zurich, showed that the offering of Methadone was kind of enforced. However, despite taking the Methadone they didn’t stop taking the heroin. So they had law enforcement and social services work together to make things better. Addicts were given a choice. Go to prison or take help to get clean. Everyone was in shelters and not on the streets. So it was shelter first, then treatment, including psychiatric care. However, housing is earned by complying with the best available medical care, so they have to show up for their job and keep taking their meds. In San Francisco and Los Angeles today that is considered immoral. Housing is considered a right.

In my opinion it proves the case for long form podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience. Complicated issues like those above, are given the necessary time to explain how it has come about and what if anything can be done about it. Joe isn’t weighed down by having to kowtow to schedules and sponsors.  He has taken years to build up his viewership on youtube. Regularly receiving millions of viewers.

It was the well beloved (aka my partner) who first introduced me to Joe’s podcast. I thank him so much for that. It has opened up my world listening to this and many other interesting guests.

Some of my favourites have been; Elon Musk talking about Tesla, SpaceX and AI amongst other subjects. I found the interview with Ben Shapiro fascinating. Ben is a right wing political commentator and Joe is pretty left winged on most issues. Which led to some very interesting back-and-forth moments with them making it compelling. The interview with Edward Snowden, the ex CIA employee who leaked classified documents before fleeing to Russia. Described in breathtaking detail the amount of surveillance that is ongoing. Listening to Bernie Sanders was a great insight into a part of American politics that I hadn’t ventured before where a presidential candidate was able to speak freely, but not unchallenged about his policies and beliefs. 

I now consider listening to podcasts such as these along the same lines as how I feel that reading about writing is writing. It keeps my brain continually stimulated and informed on so many different issues which I can then give to characters that I write about. By being able to see different viewpoints on an issue or principle my hope is that my writing will continue to have an authentic voice. Complex human emotions and ideologies can be explored bringing life to the characters in my books. 

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