Saturday, April 17, 2021
Uncategorized City Beat: Why can’t we have nice things?

City Beat: Why can’t we have nice things?


By Tim Redmond

JUNE 5, 2014 – More than two thirds of Americans think that “government must see to it that nobody is without food, clothing, or shelter” and that “government in Washington ought to see to it that anyone who wants to work can find a job.” Nearly 80 percent believe that the minimum wage should be high enough that no family with a full-time worker falls below the poverty line. Almost 90 percent say the federal government ought to spend whatever is necessary to provide great public schools to every child.

Why doesn’t any of this happen?

An interesting poll that divides respondents by income – the one percent and the rest of us – offers a remarkable insight into how American politics really works.

The overwhelming majority of people who make less than $1 million a year support a strong role for the federal government in promoting opportunities for economic equality: Good education, single-payer health care, progressive taxation. The overwhelming majority of the one percent oppose those things.

And guess which side is winning?

The poll didn’t ask the question, but I would guess that about 80 or 90 percent of the 99 percent would say they agree that money isn’t speech, that corporations aren’t people, and that it’s a good idea to amend the Constitution to prevent a small number of wealthy people from dominating politics (the way they do now). And I think it’s safe to say that Congress will never let that happen.

I wonder: If we did this poll in San Francisco, would the clear majority of the public say that tech companies shouldn’t be able to run private buses in Muni stops for $1, that Twitter doesn’t need a huge tax break, that the city government should do more to ensure that everyone has decent housing even if it means raising taxes on the wealthy? Probably.

Why don’t those things happen? Why, as my friend Nato Green asked when he posted this on Facebook, can’t we have nice things? Take a guess.

There are bad taxi drivers in San Francisco. There are people with criminal records who ought to have a chance to get a decent job and re-enter civil society. But there’s a reason that the city regulates the taxi industry and requires background checks: Cab drivers pick up all sorts of people, including tourists who don’t speak much English, people who are drunk, people who have disabilities … lots of potentially vulnerable people.

So when an Uber driver allegedly assaulted a passenger, and even a fairly simple check showed that he had a criminal record that included felonies and prison time, it raised again a serious question about these new “sharing economy” services. Uber outsources its background checks, and this guy slipped through the cracks.

Again: Mistakes happen. There are, no doubt, drivers with mainstream cab companies that have troubled backgrounds. Unfair to tag Uber forever with one screw-up.

But not unfair to say: You want to be a taxi service in San Francisco, you need to accept the regulations (like government oversight of your background checks) that were put in place for a very good reason.



Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. Something’s got to give in the near future or else American society is headed for a permanent wealth gap with decent standards of living consolidated at the top. If we can’t give democratic socialism a try in the US, then I don’t think a solution will ever be forthcoming. But that looks a long way off – even in San Francisco it seems that not enough is being done. And if San Franciscans can’t get organized enough to stop being tongue-tied on these issues, hope for the rest of the country is probably lost. For instance, I just looked at the pending ballot initiatives scheduled for November, and there isn’t a single one attempting to revise the ridiculous terms set by City Hall for the tech shuttle pilot program. Instead of charging $1 per stop and bringing in only 1.5 million over 18 months, we need to be charging them at least 10 ten times that – probably closer to 100 times that. I can’t wait until the elections next year when it will be time to oust Lee from office (if he even has the guts to run for another term). I’m ashamed that New York was able to elect DeBlasio, but we’re still stuck with Lee. We need a radical politician in that office – the kind of mayor we deserve and who we can be proud of.

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