Resolving San Francisco’s Class Warfare
|January 30, 2014||Posted by Martin Adams under Editorials|
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. Compassion opens our eyes to the suffering of others and allows us to feel their suffering as our own. It also helps us realize that the economic system we are currently living in is deeply responsible for the poverty we have amidst ourselves today — the kind of poverty that is especially present in big cities such as San Francisco, California.
A recent article in The Guardian highlighted the tensions present in San Francisco, where long-time residents fear gentrification by high-tech employees, who have driven up rents even more in a city that’s already plagued by high rents. While zoning restrictions are only partially to blame for the housing supply shortages in San Francisco, the tensions that are present in San Francisco are caused by something much deeper.
San Francisco’s class warfare is an expression of an intense level of wealth inequality that’s present in the city. So why is it that there is so much wealth inequality in San Francisco? In general, in our current economic system, wealth inequality can be directly correlated to population density (see chart). It means that wherever you have a lot of people crammed together over a small area, you have greater wealth inequality. Why is that?
When you have a lot of people living closely together, land becomes more valuable, since there’s only so much of it over any given area. In the case of San Francisco, land is exceptionally valuable, since there’s a lot of wealth crammed into a relatively small area. The problem is that (in our current economic system) property owners — and the banks that finance property ownership — are allowed to privatize that land value. So when you have a lot of people living closely together, land values skyrocket; this value, however, then only flows into the hands of the few that own that land.
As a matter of fact, San Francisco is not poor at all! Look how valuable its real estate is! Hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars live in the City — located right underneath the skyscrapers and the old Victorian mansions. Yet, private property owners claim those land values for themselves. Mind you, no human being alone makes land valuable: land values are community-generated. Therefore, when property owners profit from land, they profit from the contributions of others. That’s a cold, hard fact.
The value of land therefore has to be shared; and before I’m accused of being a communist, let me assure you that by us sharing the value of land — which is unearned — we’ll actually be able to have more freedom in our markets. And for those who think I propose some weird concept that’s never been tried — let me remind you that land values are already partially being shared in far-flung places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, both of which have relatively strong economies (although Hong Kong has great wealth inequality for other reasons — some of which I’ll share in my forthcoming book).
Imagine if all residents of San Francisco had a stake in San Francisco land! Gone would be the tensions, the class warfare, the attacks on Google buses. Residents would welcome tech-employees, for they would make their land even more valuable — how exciting would that be! San Francisco could become an even greater hub of creativity, sustainability, and cutting-edge innovation as its community wealth would be shared with all the people that live in San Francisco. The possibilities for personal and social transformation in such an environment are nearly endless.
Going back to Martin Luther King, Jr: compassion understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. Our present economic system produces beggars — no doubt about it. It therefore not only needs restructuring — it needs restructuring from the ground up.