“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Modest Proposal

I have been getting up earlier these days, and getting outside as quickly as I can.  I love the feeling on the street in the first hour after dawn.

Lately I have noticed that on almost every morning crews with hoses and steam cleaners are cleaning the sidewalks in the blocks around my hotel.  I always thank the guys in those crews, who, for hours before I get out, have been working hard in their dark blue uniforms and rubber boots.  It would be nice to think that the city was finally rich enough (which, of course, it is) to clean the streets of the Tenderloin as well as it cleans the streets of the wealthier neighborhoods.  But what the steam-cleaning of these blocks means is that the rich are coming and that the rest of us will soon be squeezed out.

I look at the faces of my neighbors as they pass. Most look old before their time.  They are getting by as best they can, managing against very bad odds to keep up their spirits, to be willing to live another day, to say often “I am happy because I woke up again this morning”, all in the face of little chance that their lives will improve.  They perform their duties.  They find what diversions and pleasures they can.  They do not think of  moving because they know that they cannot afford to live anywhere else, certainly anywhere else in San Francisco.  And more than that, they do not want to move because they have their friends in the neighborhood.  They see each other at breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Lafayette Coffee Shop, among other places.  They bicker and banter and tease one another.  They know each other’s relatives and will be there for each other when accident, disease, or age bring any one to a crisis.

But, of course, they  will have to move.  They will lose one another.  I have seen the sign of the times above Market Street, just across the intersection from the rising tower that it advertises:


I thought, yes, we would all be happy to have a clear and reliable contact guaranteeing our housing, but when the words also mean that I and my fellows have no secure housing in the coming months and years, I find the sign in such bad taste that I want to confront whoever created it and tell them the truth about what they are doing.

I look into the faces of my neighbors and I think, “Most of us pay 30% or 50% of our income in rent; that is, our rent is set at 30% to 50% of our income.  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice -- wouldn’t it be fair -- to have those who are coming to displace us also pay 30% to 50% of their income for their housing.  Think was a windfall the city would have if it collected 30% to 50% of the incomes of all those Twitterists and Yelpers, et al.  Those millions upon millions could all be spent improving the housing of everyone in the neighborhood, restoring historic buildings and building new ones for all of us.

I think of this modest proposal as being like Reagan’s Flat Tax:  a principled idea that everyone should pay the same percentage of their income for whatever service is provided by the government, which, after all, defines all the privileges and responsibilities of landowners and landlords.

Then we could all enjoy clean streets, safe neighborhoods, and comfortable housing.

Think about it.