Don't Blame California's Poop Crisis on Capitalism

The real culprits are social progressives and excessive housing regulations.

I recently had the opportunity to visit San Francisco for the first time. Coastal towns tend to be a bit more interesting in terms of cuisine (seafood being one of the more varied palate options) and architecture (steep hill structures are ever a testament to human ingenuity), and San Francisco scores high in both categories. However, one area where it currently scores quite low is in the aroma zone. At first, I thought perhaps they had a very inefficient sewer system near the shoreline retail sector, but as we explored deeper toward the city center, it became clear something was amiss. I learned shortly thereafter that San Francisco has a poop crisis. To be blunt—people are literally crapping on the sidewalks. Not the tourists, mind you, but the local homeless population. The situation has come to a head (or to the head, to employ a nautical metaphor) primarily as a result of progressive conservatism primed with the power of centralized (governmental) authority.

Scapegoating Capitalism

The outside leftist narrative, of course, is that this poop crisis is the inevitable result of unmitigated capitalism, which drives the eternal boogeyman of income inequality. This inequality fuels gentrification of the San Francisco housing market (no, actually property taxes are the prime driver of gentrification—if you owned your home absent property tax you would never need to sell due to rising prices). So as housing becomes ever more “unaffordable,” people are forced out of their homes and onto the street. This is, of course, complete nonsense.

These residents walk and talk like social progressives, but because one of their core tenets is that they do not want the flavor, character, or architecture of the area in which they live to change—that is, they want to conserve it in perpetuity.

Prices only go up if supply is constrained while demand is rising. So in order to discover why supply is constrained, we turn our attention toward the “inside” leftists (that is, the progressive liberals who live there). It turns out that those who live there are, in fact, quite conservative (even if they don’t realize it). Any attempted new housing project must pass not only governmental hurdles but also the “local input” of current residents. These residents walk and talk like social progressives, but because one of their core tenets is that they do not want the flavor, character, or architecture of the area in which they live to change—that is, they want to conserve it in perpetuity. This by definition makes them conservatives in that arena. Their dual desire to not only keep San Francisco locked in an eternal snow globe style stasis but to also not erode the value of their homes drives them to engage in this very destructive economic protectionism: keeping newcomers out by making it virtually impossible (or more costly than necessary) to build keeps the value of their own homes artificially elevated while preserving the Norman Rockwell character of their town.

Free the Market

To fully appreciate the extent of the damage they are causing and why, perhaps, more than anywhere else in the country the homeless problem is so acute, it should be noted that the median price of a modest single-family home now stands at $1.6 million. A family of four with a household income of $100k is considered at the poverty line and actually qualifies for assistance from HUD (let that sink in — taxpayers across the country are subsidizing the housing of people making a $100k/year).

So what is the solution? Always the same and likewise always decried as “unrealistic”—remove all housing regulations and obstacles and let anyone build anything anywhere.

So what is the solution? Always the same and likewise always decried as “unrealistic”—remove all housing regulations and obstacles and let anyone build anything anywhere (works just fine in Houston, Texas, thank you very much). Your neighbor has no right to say what you can do with your property. Progressives (yes, I’m looking at you “townies” in Athens, Georgia) should stop blocking progress when it comes to housing and development.

This article was reprinted from the Mises Institute.

Further Reading

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