Why Caring About The Homeless Doesn’t work

Have you heard of the book, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities by Michael Shellenberger. I have not read it, but it sounds interesting. If it foretells the future of progressively governed cities, we have something to fear.

LA Times

This interview with the author will give you some perspective. From The Hub

The highlights of the problem

  1. There are about 10,000 homeless people in San Francisco. In 2020, 700 of them died. The 2021 projection is very similar. To put that in perspective, if you selected 10,000 males, aged 82 at random from the population, the Social Security actuarial table estimates that 700 of them would die within a year. Few of the homeless in San Francisco are 82. If we guessed they were age 30 on average, their death rate is 40 times normal expectation. The problem is clear and yet possible solutions seem scarce.
  2. The underlying issue, according to the city, is poverty. Clearly poverty is a symptom, but the cause? A more circumspect view might look at drug abuse, and mental illness as more likely to be involved. The problem for progressives is poverty is an easier subject. It generates more empathy and allows blame to set at the feet of others.
  3. The author suggests that as religion and its ideas of charity, aid for the poor, self-discipline and self-responsibility have been replaced by compassion. In my view compassion is a cheap virtue unless you do something about it and there are few efforts that do much more than sound good.
  4. Could we assume the victim culture and the assignment of responsibility to others leads nowhere. “predicated on the idea that you can classify real people as either victims or oppressors. Victims should be given whatever they want, without any conditions. The consequences are tragically plain.”
  5. The approaches do not attribute agency to the people involved. Shellenberger points out that concerns like Climate Change are clearly assigned to individuals. The difference is that people used to be attracted to heroes like Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Today we celebrate Victimhood and assign no individual responsibility.
  6. Should that celebration of victimhood include providing free drugs? Treating symptoms to reduce pain never addresses the fundamental problem.
  7. The author suggests the approach is similar to Munchhausen by Proxy a mental disorder that involves harming one’s children to gain recognition as caregiver hero. I don’t suppose there is much likelihood that progressivism will be included in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (DSM) There could be a case for it though. It would be an interesting debate.
  8. Self-development and independence is an old idea in the United States and Canada, It likely was required to be a farmer in the 1800s. Being independent was crucial. Being and having good neighbours was important. Sometimes you cannot make it alone. Success was being as independent as possible and as neighbourly as possible. Many people today are conditioned to believe they can rely on others exclusively.

The serious questions are around repair and prevention.

Repairing the homeless problem is vast, and strangely the ones who might benefit often don’t participate. Many have mental issues fueled and enhanced by substance abuse of one kind and another.

There are no doubt many programs and policies aimed at the problem. The price for these is not trivial. The problem is there is no objectivity in them. People are measuring what they do not what happens because of what they do.

There are no marks for trying here in “real world.” The only reason you even pay attention is to learn what doesn’t work and move on to something else.

Yoda wisdom, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

RealWorld observations.

  1. The problem is getting bigger not smaller. That seems to indicate there are no viable programs in place.
  2. There is some virtue signalling going on. Compassion is a fine virtue but uncoupled to doing it is useless.
  3. Misunderstanding causation and interaction of the variables is more aimed at preserving the bureaucracy and the people who are compassionately dealing with the problem than it is with solving it. Never assign a problem to people who will be personally harmed by solving it.
  4. The author pointed out a familiar bureaucratic trick when no solution is in the offing. Rename the problem. Homelessness is now the name for what once would have been several problems, Poverty,( maybe as a symptom) drug addiction, criminal activity, and mental illness. Problems that are really a bundle of connected problems cannot be solved at the bundle level. At that level they can feed a bureaucracy forever, though.
  5. There is no measurement system for success or failure. That there are 10,000 people and growing, with a death rate similar to people in their 80s speaks to no operating solution.
  6. Politicians are impatient. No solution that will show effects ten years from now will be approved. They seem to not recognize that each of us will be ten years older then and we will either have the problem or we won’t depending on what we do now. Politicians are not a wise choice for this solution to this problem. The incentives are not appropriate for them.
  7. If you work on the pieces in the bundle, where do you start?  Seriously address addiction? How about mental health. What to do there? Making criminality not criminal as in California provides an incentive. How does that make any sense. Poverty is being addressed by vast other bureaucracies who have proven adept at growing their bureaucracy and inept at solving their problem.

The bits to take away

How your society works is a big part of your personal context. It is impossible to plan effectively if the society changes to far against your interests.

A government and a bureaucracy that promotes or even tolerates dependency  is not your planning friend.


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I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

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