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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

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City HallThe AgendaDenmark, taxes, happiness, racism ...

Denmark, taxes, happiness, racism …

... plus saving the SIP hotels, cracking down on serial permit scofflaws, and more problems with private prisons. That's The Agenda for Feb. 22-28


Freakonomics Radio is usually pretty interesting (although sometimes they get it really, really wrong. In one episode a guest argued that the reason urban housing prices are so high is that landlords are required to keep their property up to code).

The episode I heard on the radio this weekend was excellent – and has a message for policy makers at every level in this country. The question was one that’s come up quite a few times in the past:

Why are people in the Nordic countries, in this case Denmark, so much happier – by almost any standard – than people in other places?

What if Jeff Bezos only had $5 billion instead of $180 billion? Would all of us be happier?

The simple answer: They have far less economic inequality. Taxes on high incomes are high. Displays of wealth are frowned upon. There’s a well-funded, effective social safety net at every level. People are just less stressed.

A woman who was born in Britain and recently moved to Denmark told a remarkable story: She’s a business professional, and she talked about the person making her coffee at a café, and said that the could talk as equals – “because after taxes, we’re taking home about the same amount.”

She’s good with that. So, apparently, are most people in the country. The message: If you let a few collect too much wealth, it makes almost everyone unhappy. If you tax wealth at a level that makes most people relatively equal, almost everyone is happier. It turns out that taxing the rich isn’t just good for the revenue of a nation and thus the safety net; it’s good just by itself because it decreased inequality – and increases happiness.

In other words, if we had taxed the multibillionaires like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos to the point where they only had, say, $5 billion instead of more than $100 billion, not only would we have enough money for single-payer health care and great public schools, but we’d all be happier people.

Meanwhile, I’m reading one of the most important books on the US economy to come along in a while. It’s called The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee, and it starts with the question, “why can’t we have nice things?” We, of course being the United States, and “nice things” being good public schools, a functioning public health-care system, adequate wages that keep people out of poverty, affordable housing … the things that ought to be a part of any modern society.

One major reason, she argues, is that the great social achievements of the New Deal and the post-War era were mostly designed to make life better for white people – and after the Civil Rights Movement forced the nation to start, slowly, allowing Black people to benefit, too, the whites in power rebelled.

She uses the metaphor of the towns in the South that decided in the 1950s that they would never integrate public pools – so they drained the pools and shut them down. Now neither white people nor Black people can swim.

It’s exactly what happened when Ronald Reagan campaigned on the slogan that “government is not the solution, government is the problem” and talked, in hardly even coded language, about “welfare queens.” The message: Government takes tax money from white people and gives it to Black people. So we need to cut taxes and shrink government.

Of course, McGhee argues, that hurt a lot of white people, too. She talks about the “zero-sum paradigm” that people in power have been peddling — the idea that racial groups are competing for economic gains. That, she says, is “a lie …the wealthy and the powerful are selling the zero-sum story for their own profit, hoping to keep people with much in common from making common cause with each other.”

Her subtitle is “What racism costs everyone and how we can prosper together.”

I wonder, of course, what would happen in Denmark if a new and large immigrant population that didn’t look like the Danes started getting the same advantages as the mostly white current population does.

But between Denmark’s taxes on the rich and McGhee’s point that while progressives talk a lot about social class, much of our economy has been shaped by racism that hurts (almost) everyone, there are huge some prescriptions for policy here.

Six supervisors are pushing emergency legislation to keep 2,200 hotel rooms open for the duration of the pandemic – setting up a clash with the Mayor’s Office, which is trying to reduce the number of people in the rooms.

That measure comes up at the Budget and Finance Committee Wednesday/24, where it’s likely to pass – but it needs eight votes at the full board.

The bigger question is why the city isn’t using the money it has from the feds and Prop. C to buy these hotels right now. Perhaps that will come up at committee. The meeting starts at 10:30am.

A fairly large number of the serious building permit violations in San Francisco are connected to a fairly small number of operators who are known as “serial permit scofflaws.” The Land use and Transportation Committee will consider legislation Monday/22 that would create a database of these scofflaws that the Department of Building Inspection can track, and would add compliance control to projects involving those individuals.

The bill, by Sups. Hillary Ronen Aaron Peskin, and Matt Haney, is in response to a long list of problems at DBI.

The committee will also hold a hearing on the success of the Safe Parking and Vehicular Triage Center (a fancy term for a place where people can live in their vehicles without hassle) at Balboa Park. By almost all accounts, the temporary program has worked well and ought to be expanded to other districts.

A news report out of Lousiana and Texas states that the company running a private prison in the Tenderloin is failing to provide adequate heat for ICE detainees.

At the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, advocates say parents and children have been living with overflowing toilets, thirst, poor hygiene, and heat that fades in and out. Twenty miles away, at the South Texas ICE Processing Center in Pearsall, advocates say detainees who complained about the cold faced retaliation. At the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana, a detainee interviewed by The Intercept reports that the segregation unit, akin to solitary confinement, has no heat.

The Geo Group still has contracts with both the state and the feds for its 111 Taylor Center in San Francisco, where there have been multiple COVID outbreaks.

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.
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  1. tom: if the Demopublicans and Republicrats had had been governing responsively, then there would not have been populist uprisings left and right. The Demopublicans and Republicrats only act when their donor bases desire an outcome. Populism is a reliable indicator of persistently non-responsive government papering over its non-responsiveness with trolling by blathering, abusive political hacks.

  2. tom: polling has indicated increasing support for single payer across the political spectrum, yet the Democrats have worked up a sweat to contain that threat with a vigor they rarely show against the Republicans.

  3. Gorn, even by your own admission 75% did not want Sanders and, by implication, the single payer system that Liebermann nixxed a few years earlier.

    There is a very real sense in which Trump might still be in the WH if the Dems had put up Sanders as a candidate since it would have been so easy to paint him as a clueless ageing hippie socialist.

  4. Gorn: Biden has discussed implementing a public option to the Affordable Care Act government website . This could be a precursor to single payer. Joe Lieberman was the Democrat who blocked the public option in 2008.
    In my opinion Biden might be a better leader than Sanders in this day and age because people trust him. Sometimes its better to make smaller progressive steps that last rather than try to implement sweeping reforms overnight which could fail. This country is a rule by supermajority and half the population is increasingly brainwashed by right wing news shows, so you have to start somewhere and a pubic option is a start.

  5. simba: That much is true. The Democrat Party, of which Tim represents the patronage ground floor, has doubled down on defending Wall Street, finance, insurance, real estate and insurers, including health insurers. The political system is non-responsive to health extortion. Given that the head of the congressional Democrat party is the MC from SF, I’d posit that SF is leading the way in blocking single payer in Congress.

    I voted for Sanders, but I was in the 25% minority. We need to figure out why voters who support single payer in polls do not vote for it at the ballot box. My conclusion is that the role of the Democrat Party in this authoritarian, democracy-hostile system, is to intercept and neutralize demands for change from below and to the left. With that dynamic at play, we never get a shot at the Republicans just as the progressive/liberals defend the moderate/conservatives in SF.

  6. Tom is entitled to his opinion, that life in the US is preferable due to lower income taxes and a more capitalist-friendly environment. However in any conversation the facts are important. The fact is that the cost per capita for health care in the US is the highest in the world over $10,000 per person. The life expectancy in the US is the lowest in the developed world, less than 78 years of age. Even if you are rich and can afford an expensive health insurance policy you won’t live as long as you would in another country like Canada or most of the EU. This is a fact, and it means that there is systemic dysfunction in the health care system in this country.
    Where is the other $5000 going? It is not going to medical care. Some people are getting filthy rich off the system (middle men, insurance companies) and the public is paying for it with our lives.
    If we paid $10,000 per year per person and lived to be 85 or 90 you could claim that health care in the US is superior. But it is a giant rip off and, at this point, a national security risk.

  7. Tom, this just isn’t your blog. We’ve heard these arguments forever but know better. Please take your refuted, tired-ass, b.s. arguments against socialized healthcare to readers gullible, indoctrinated, and scared enough to believe them.

  8. simba, no many come to the US for treatment, e.g. athletes like European soccer players, and babies with serious problems.

  9. No one comes to the US for medical care any more. They might have 50 years ago but nowadays Americans are going in the abroad for cleaner safer health care.

  10. Tom if people had to wait years for procedures they would not live as long . The myth that people wait for procedures had been propagated by right wing radio and disproven many times.
    Move to Denmark? Sounds great if you’re young but who the hell wants used Americans now?

  11. simba,

    Yet Europeans come to the US for advanced treatments that are not available in Europe because the socialized systems won’t pay for them. Or ask the British who have to wait a year for routine operations.

    But Danish taxes are not just high because of free healthcare, but also a whole variety of welfare payments. Americans have had the opportunity to elect Sanders these last two election cycles and have socialized healthcare. Both times they rejected it.

    It is good to have a choice. Denmark if you want all that and the US if you do not.

  12. Tom people in the Scandinavian countries live longer. Being an American takes years off your life expectancy. All those hundreds of billions won’t buy you much after you drop dead

  13. Single payer health care is not more expensive. Countries with single payer systems pay half as much per capita and live 2 to 3 years longer on average. Most Americans have lived their lives on a tightrope always knowing that being uninsured for one month can wipe out your life savings resulting from hospitalization. If that is not enough to make you sick and stressed out what is?

  14. geekgirl, yes, the Scandinavian model is cradle-to-grave welfare, with of course the tax rates to match that. To a lesser extent, that is the European model. Even 45% is well above the highest US income tax rate that anyone pays, federally.

    And yes, presumably Danish voters think that is a good deal. The question here, however, is whether that model is attractive to American voters and, based on election results for the last 40 years, I’d say not.

    It is a good thing that different nations have different models, so that there is a choice. You and Tim might enjoy living in Denmark. Personally I would find all that nanny state stuff a bit suffocating.

    And how many dynamic companies are from Denmark? There is Lego and Carlsberg that I can think of, that’s about it. Ikea is Swedish.

  15. Tom, yes, Denmark has the highest taxe rate, but, funny thing, they don’t mind. They get a lot for their money, like free tuition all the wat through, plus $900 a month to live on. They have excellent health care, and retirement benefits. And on average, the tax rate there is 45%.

  16. In respect of Denmark it might be worth mentioning that Danes have to pay income tax at a rate of up to 65% and its sales tax (VAT) is 25%. Not sure how American voters would be with that.

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