Douglas Andrews / November 18, 2021

A One-Time Progressive Sees the Light

A new book by a former leftist sheds light on how progressives are ruining our nation’s cities.

Michael Shellenberger lives in Berkeley, once worked for George Soros, and once teamed up with Maxine Waters to make sure addicts had clean needles. Somewhere along the way, though, he came to his senses, and it’s from this hard-left foundation that he wrote the book San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities.

“I wanted to write ‘San Fransicko,’” Shellenberger tells The Daily Signal, “to both get to the bottom of what’s really going on and also figure out what the solutions are because, obviously, we’re dealing with a catastrophe.” He notes that drug overdose deaths rose from 17,000 to 70,000 by 2017, but that they totaled 93,000 in 2020 (and now over 100,000 in the last 12 months), which is almost three times as many people as die in car accidents and four times as many as die from homicide.

In a 16-minute interview with the Washington Examiner’s Doug McKelway, Shellenberger, a one-time winner of Time magazine’s “Hero of the Environment” award, explained his metamorphosis, which was catalyzed by a series of policy prescriptions that he now sees were deeply wrong-headed. Among them: the de-criminalization of up to three grams of very dangerous drugs, including deadly levels of fentanyl and meth; and the de-criminalization of shoplifting up to $950 of goods, which gave crooks carte blanche and gave retailers reason to pack up and leave. One wonders: What did he and his fellow travelers think was going to happen?

As Shellenberger writes in the book: “Many of the problems stemmed from COVID-19. … Fewer people were being arrested for public intoxication and aggressive behavior. … And we started finding people passed out on the sidewalk, sometimes with their pants around their knees. But none of these problems started with the pandemic. Between 2008 and 2019, 18,000 companies, including Toyota, Charles Schwab, and Hewlett-Packard, fled California due to a constellation of problems sometimes summarized as ‘poor business climate.’”

As for energy policy and the decline of our progressive-run cities, he now realizes that they’re related. Both, he says, involve a progressive victimology, even a religion. We force more wind and solar power on people at greater prices, and we back them up with fossil fuels when they inevitably fail to deliver. And we coddle addicts and criminals rather than providing them with the discipline and the rules they need to build happy and healthy lives. As he trenchantly puts it, “In this effort to harmonize with nature, we’re actually destroying it; and in this effort to help victims, we’re actually killing them.”

Victimology is the central theme of the book — a progressive ideology that designates some people, by identity or experience, as victims who are entitled to behave in destructive ways. The result is an undermining of the values that make cities, and civilization itself, possible. As Shellenberger says:

The racist aspect of this is that progressives classify all African Americans, all people of color, except for Asians, as victims. But they also classify people with mental illness as victims. They classify children. They classify women, gays and lesbians, people suffering addiction are all classified as victims. That’s the first thing they do.

The second thing they do, which is as insidious, is that they believe that, to victims, everything should be given and nothing demanded. This is terrible for raising kids. It’s also terrible for dealing with people suffering from addiction and mental illness.

In addition to discussing his book, Shellenberger mentioned a newly published project that’s sure to antagonize his former fellow travelers. It’s a collaborative one-pager he produced with colleague Peter Boghossian called “Woke Religion: A Taxonomy.” If you’ve ever wanted a chart-based Rosetta Stone for understanding the woke Left and the way it approaches issues such as racism, climate change, drugs, crime, and transgenderism, this is it.

Shellenberger, who moved to San Francisco in 1993, says he no longer feels moral living in the Golden State, and he feels like his taxes are going to unethical activities. Clearly, the scales have fallen from his eyes. If only every leftist were so willing to see the failures of progressivism.

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