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How To Escape The Doom Loop

29 Apr
San Francisco Beach View At Golden Hour

How To Escape The Doom Loop

For my wife’s birthday our annual tradition is to go out for Ethiopian food in San Francisco.

We live just outside the city in Marin county, a collection of small suburban communities that requires crossing the Golden Gate bridge to get to downtown San Fran.

Typically, my kids and I take my wife to this popular Ethiopian jazz restaurant every year near the civic center on Fillmore Street.

This year, after all the chaos and crime the city has endured, going into the city feels different. The number of car break-ins has become absurdly high in San Francisco. And the drug-using junkies and homeless, who sometimes resemble zombies, have soared in numbers.

It’s gotten to the point that my wife and I must tightly hold our daughters’ hands as we navigate used needles and feces on the sidewalk. I carry a blade, no one is allowed to wear jewelry, and my eldest daughter’s iPhone is left at home to limit losses in a mugging.

We also have to empty our car of anything and everything visible from the windows before we leave for the city.

And no one in my family wears high heels, in case we have to run from some of the new gangs that have entered the area, like the Hondurans.

When did San Francisco become like this?

I’ve been living in the Bay Area, including sometimes in the city, for most of the last 15 years. It wasn’t like this a decade ago. I routinely wandered in from the bars in the city late at night without thinking of my safety or worrying about being mugged. San Francisco, as cities go, was simply a safer place back then.

The reason for San Francisco’s problems lies in its politics.

I’m registered as an independent, so this it’s not a left versus right thing for me—but over the years, as tech people in the Bay Area became monumentally wealthy, it’s simply a fact that the Democrats moved more and more to the left…

From stripping landlords of their rights, to refusing to remove homeless encampments, to handing out free needles to junkies, San Francisco was starting to look like a socialist dystopia. But the ironic thing was, no matter what government did, the rich were still getting richer, and the poor getting poorer.

If you work a service job outside tech, which includes tens of thousands of jobs just to keep the city going, then you found yourself barely making more than minimum wage.

With frequent rent increases, high cost of car insurance and registration, and food inflation, it was basically impossible for anyone get by unless you were earning the six-figure sums of the tech workers.

For everyone else—the bartenders, firefighters, teachers, nurses and janitors, etc.—their anger has been significantly increasing for years. And they have continually asked the city for more assistance and services just to make ends meet.

But asking the government for services presents a problem in itself. This is because the government typically does a terrible job at everything it engages in, with perhaps the exception of war. So there was a double-edged sword for many non-tech workers in the city. To get by was increasingly difficult, and to get government to help was making matters worse.

On top of this general malaise affecting San Francisco over the last few years, a host of progressive politicians were voted in—politicians that make normal Democrats look conservative.

They promised more government help, higher taxes for the rich, and less prosecution for criminals, who supposedly were victims of centuries-long U.S. racist policies. During COVID, many of these politicians took up the popular credo to defund the police.

If I had to put my finger on it, the single biggest decision that destroyed San Francisco was an enacted law in California that decriminalized thievery under $950.

Apparently, the majority of California politicians believe it’s wrong to criminalize petty theft.

Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of this decriminalization was that nearly every homeless junkie in San Francisco felt they could walk into any market or store and take what they wanted, so long as it was under $950.

And many did.

Petty theft now happens daily everywhere in San Francisco, and shop owners are at loss to do anything.

As a result, Walgreens has shut down multiple stores—all of them in the city.

Small mom-and-pop shops have also called it quits.

The downtown has become an empty mess, as stores have continued to leave the city, including prestigious Nordstrom, one of the largest retailers.

I can certainly understand and empathize with a hungry homeless person stealing a sandwich. But the pro-theft policy has created dangerous unintended consequences.

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Organized gangs and crime syndicates began sending in dozens of thieves at the same time into a store to take around $950 per person. With so much looting happening at once, even if police were called, it was too difficult to apprehend more than a few people for questioning. Soon it made no sense for some owners to keep their shops open at all.

I hate to say it, but San Francisco has become an anything goes “Mad Max” world.

Perhaps worse of all, store owners and the general public felt they couldn’t do anything. In California, fewer people own guns, and besides, there are strict rules against retaliating against a nonviolent thief. In fact, a new law is currently making its way through the California Assembly to further punish people who stop or harm petty thieves.

So why is the public allowing this to happen? Where are all the normal middle-class people who would stand up to such nonsense?

They are nowhere to be found, because there’s a feeling that if you make six figures, and own a million-dollar house (the median home price is $1.3 million in San Fran), a person who lives so well shouldn’t be complaining of petty crime from those far less unfortunate than them.

A second reason many people are quiet is because of cancel culture.

Much of the petty theft is caused by minorities. It’s widely accepted in the Bay Area that it would be bad form for a well-to-do white person to stop a minority from stealing a Gucci bag, especially when the white person’s net worth is quite possibly 100 times that of the thief.

In fact, if someone is caught trying to stop a minority or underprivileged person, you can expect them to be ostracized in public and on social media (which follows you everywhere).

Cancel culture has muzzled many people, including many who are probably Democrats.

Few dare to speak out.

I know this feeling myself; I own multiple properties and am a public figure in the science and tech world.

Naturally, I think stealing is terrible and thieves should be punished. But I’m also acutely aware that my social standing in the world is based on my many fans and the journalists who regularly cover me.

Neither of these groups likely have my financial resources, or my Ivy League education, or my stable family life (I’m married to a surgeon).

In fact, these groups probably have more sympathy with the homeless person, and would probably rather support them than the rich famous guy who has everything.

It simply doesn’t make sense on multiple levels for me or others to complain too loudly, and therefore I don’t.

Unfortunately, there is a terrible problem with this called the Doom Loop. Society simply cannot function for long without accountability of some sort, regardless whether life has been more than fair to me or less than fair to others. If there’s no accountability, just like how an avalanche develops, one minor problem can cause multiple other problems—which turn into massive destruction, like we are witnessing in San Francisco.

For example, some of the San Francisco high rises recently sold for 65% less than their prior value, creating devastating losses in the hundreds of millions for local banks.

Also, multiple hotels in the city have given back their buildings to the local lenders, as rooms are going empty. Tourists are staying away from the city due to the crime and its nasty reputation.

Naturally, the city government is reeling from all this loss of tax revenue. This is what a Doom Loop is: something that keeps getting worse because of increasing problems caused by the initial problem.

Soon, defunding the police won’t be a political statement, but something the mayor is forced into because there is no money.

This is why letting hungry homeless people steal even just sandwiches must be criminally prosecuted. It’s a very slippery slope once you allow certain rules to be broken, regardless of circumstances.

If you want to help the homeless and severely underprivileged, raise taxes on the rich to specifically build cheap government housing outside—then force the homeless into them. But letting homeless people remain on the streets in drugged-out anarchy is definitely not the answer.

Unfortunate as it is, no one wants to stand up and say out loud what needs to be done, despite it being difficult and maybe even unfair. And those that do stand up and say something get labeled as a right-wing Trumper (I personally ran against Trump for U.S. President, so I’m definitely not a Trumper).

Everyone must try to remember that for decades both liberals and conservatives viewed the rule of law as essential for safe, prosperous cities. Sadly, that time is over for many cities in America, especially for San Francisco.

Let the lessons from San Francisco be lessons that are learned in cities around the world.


Zoltan Istavan

Contributor, Simon Letter