When nothing happened next

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (actually, during the dot-com boom), there was an Internet cafe named CoffeeNet in San Francisco’s South of Market Area (SOMA). It was reasonably successful and yes, I liked the place.

But then the landlady (we’ll call her the Wicked Witch of the East) raised the rent.

Now you have to understand that the way many, if not most, restaurants make their money is to feed people and get them out the door, clearing the table for the next guests. The idea is, ultimately, volume. An Internet cafe flips that model on its head and the CoffeeNet was modest in the costs it imposed for Internet access (I think you had to buy coffee and/or food but I really don’t remember). The CoffeeNet was even more reasonable about this if you brought your own laptop.

As successful as the CoffeeNet might have appeared to be, none of this amounts to a large margin, so when the Wicked Witch of the East raised the rent, the CoffeeNet closed. At which point, my reader might ask, what happened next?

The answer to that question is that nothing happened next. The place sat vacant for over a decade (I think fifteen years), until the building was razed. Last I saw, something else was being built there.

Now most people I tell this story to express something to the effect that maybe the Wicked Witch of the East should have moderated her rent demands. Something, they say, is better than nothing, and she could have been taking in all that money all these years.

According to the SF Office of Economic and Workforce Development, some commercial corridors have as many as 27.6 percent of storefronts sitting empty, sometimes for years on end, although the citywide average is significantly lower at about 12 percent.[1]

But it turns out neither the Wicked Witch of the East nor the CoffeeNet were alone. And some twenty years later, San Francisco passed a proposition taxing vacant storefronts, trying to push landlords to do just what most people think they should do and reduce the blight of vacant storefronts.[2] You might say, “Duh!”

But one has to wonder what motivates landlords to be persistently greedy, not that they kill the goose that lays the golden egg, but rather that they try to stuff the golden egg back into the goose, in the apparent expectation she will lay a bigger one.

The self-righteousness and sense of entitlement is strong in these folks. Even when just about the entire rest of the world disagrees.

So I have to wonder what would happen if—and I consider this unlikely—Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were to somehow succeed in enacting a demand to suspend residential rents and evictions for three months.[3] Property rights, even once extending to ownership of human beings,[4] are foundational to the U.S. system:

No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.[5]

I very much fear that such a demand would be challenged in the courts and overturned.

It’s not that the demand is, in any reasonable light, unreasonable. Government has effectively shut down the economy in a great many places, to the extreme detriment of many vulnerable people,[6] and a lot of folks are wondering how they can possibly make rent when they have no money coming in.[7]

But the capitalist god must be appeased. And if that means that millions must die in human sacrifice,[8] if that means that millions must be thrown out onto the streets,[9] so be it.

  1. [1]Adam Brinklow, “SF election results: Vacant stores tax Proposition D leads,” Curbed San Francisco, March 4, 2020, https://sf.curbed.com/2020/3/4/21164603/election-results-prop-d-vacant-store-tax
  2. [2]Adam Brinklow, “SF election results: Vacant stores tax Proposition D leads,” Curbed San Francisco, March 4, 2020, https://sf.curbed.com/2020/3/4/21164603/election-results-prop-d-vacant-store-tax; Dominic Fracassa, “SF’s Prop. D vacant storefront tax wins; so does Prop. E, tying office space to housing,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 6, 2020, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/SF-s-vacant-storefront-tax-measure-Proposition-15112228.php
  3. [3]Benjamin Fearnow, “Biden, Sanders demand 3-month freeze on rent payments, eviction of tenants across U.S.,” Newsweek, March 28, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/biden-sanders-demand-3-month-freeze-rent-payments-eviction-tenants-across-us-1494839
  4. [4]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/
  5. [5]U.S. Const. amend. V.
  6. [6]Adam Cancryn and Nancy Cook, “Health officials want Trump to ‘double down, not lighten up’ restrictions,” Politico, March 23, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/23/coronavirus-economy-trump-restart-145222; Kim Hart, “The coronavirus economy will devastate those who can least afford it,” Axios, March 23, 2020, https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-economy-layoffs-children-families-bad-d588cc93-ff26-4031-8be8-5654cce05a15.html; Funda Ustek-Spilda et al., “The untenable luxury of self-isolation,” New Internationalist, March 18, 2020, https://newint.org/features/2020/03/18/untenable-luxury-self-isolation; Ben White, “Great Depression 2? Worries about a coronavirus-induced calamity pile up,” Politico, March 23, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/23/great-depression-coronavirus-induced-calamity-145304
  7. [7]Benjamin Fearnow, “Biden, Sanders demand 3-month freeze on rent payments, eviction of tenants across U.S.,” Newsweek, March 28, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/biden-sanders-demand-3-month-freeze-rent-payments-eviction-tenants-across-us-1494839
  8. [8]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, March 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/
  9. [9]Benjamin Fearnow, “Biden, Sanders demand 3-month freeze on rent payments, eviction of tenants across U.S.,” Newsweek, March 28, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/biden-sanders-demand-3-month-freeze-rent-payments-eviction-tenants-across-us-1494839

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