San Francisco has long been one of the most liberal cities in the U.S., but after World War II the city financed its growth in ways that advantaged whites at the expense of Blacks and the city’s Asian American community, Destin Jenkins writes in his new book “The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City,” which he discussed in this week’s Drinks With The Deal podcast.
Jenkins, a history professor at the University of Chicago, became interested in the municipal bond market after Detroit filed for bankruptcy in 2013, and he chose to focus on San Francisco to illustrate how a liberal, progressive city still has serious problems around racial inequality and to explore “the relationship between anti-Blackness and color-blind liberalism,” he said.
The book treats the period between the end of World War II and the early 1980s. The first part of that time is often viewed as a golden era of American capitalism, but it was one in which Blacks did not share. Jenkins cites the example of Candlestick Park, which was built in the late 1950s for the San Francisco Giants, who had just moved from New York. The stadium was funded by municipal bonds, which were purchased by institutional investors and wealthy individuals, who were almost exclusively white, and it was constructed by white workers in building trades that were still segregated at the time, Jenkins said.
The year 1966 is a turning point in his book. The murder of Matthew Johnson, a 16-year-old African American killed in an encounter with police, led to social uprisings that compelled investment in Black neighborhoods, Jenkins said. But rising interest rates and the deindustrialization that began in the late 1960s made it increasingly challenging for San Francisco and other cities to raise money.
In his next book, Jenkins said, he hopes to explore the fiscal squeeze that American cities suffered after the late 1970s, its relationship to the underground economy and “the business of crime, the business of punishment and how both pursuits relate to urban fiscal governance post-1970.”
Here’s the podcast: