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Upset over rising American class tensions, Silicon Valley elder Tom Perkins seems to have riled them up even more. Perkins wrote a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal today that hinges on a totally inappropriate analogy: comparing wealthy Americans to persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany.

Perkins co-founded the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers 40 years ago, so while he is no longer an active VC, his name is still quite present in local conversations. He’s also famous for having owned one of the largest yachts in the world.

Perkins writes:

Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

(By the way, Steel is Perkins’s ex-wife.)

While Perkins did get a bit of love in the WSJ comments section, the media commentary and Twitter response has far much less forgiving.

Mark Morelli, Wall Street Journal commenter: “Good article. Unless we stop the class warfare and elect officials who do not divide the country into little fiefdoms we will get Nazi America soon.”

Jordan Weissman at the Atlantic: “This is the reductio ad absurdum of a rich-guy’s persecution complex. The Jews were a minority. The rich are a minority. Therefore, criticizing the rich is akin to committing genocide against the Jews. QED.”

Sam Biddle, Valleywag: “A rock through the window of a private Google shuttle, the precursor to the Holocaust—close enough. It’d be one thing if this were just another San Francisco wackjob on Medium—but this is a pioneering voice in the history of venture capital, in the very history of Silicon Valley. And this is how he thinks.”

Hunter Walk, another venture capitalist, on Twitter: “You know, one could see this as Perkins’ greatest gift -> uniting the 1% & 99% in outrage against his oped. Let the healing begin.”

Update: Kleiner Perkins has responded via email and Twitter: “Tom Perkins has not been involved in KPCB in years. We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree.”




8 comments
obrimark
obrimark

@CulturalEngineer I agree that rich and poor don't get each other, and will challenge your comment, "I've been both rich and poor" You haven't been poor. You were likely broke, and now you're not. If your parents have less than an 8th grade education, you're likely poor. If you think that $25k a year is a good wage, you're poor, as that is still poverty. 

betsybetsy
betsybetsy

I think I would be more offended if this didn't sound like the crazy rant of a feeble old man.

Piplzchoice
Piplzchoice

Make no mistake, fascism is not about right or left, poor or reach. It is about how power, supported by loud minorities, deals with difference of opinions. Perkins is entitled to his opinion. Why such an outrage and character assassination? 

BNuber
BNuber

Perkins provides clear evidence that even immense wealth can't always save one from later years filled with bitterness, senility and increasing irrelevancy.

CulturalEngineer
CulturalEngineer

I've been both rich and poor... and frankly I don't think either side understands the other. 


I contend.... and I believe it will eventually be recognized and accepted that there's a wealth bias in scaled human groups which is independent of political leanings.


This a product of the interplay of a few simple factors:


* Dunbar's Number (a hypothetical natural human community size related to cognitive limits)


* The Altruism Dilemma (how the inevitable disconnect between a biological altruism connected to Dunbar's Number and an intellectual altruism underlying a civilization


* Network effects and feedback loops resulting in concentration


And when this problem is neglected we get to play "The Ultimatum Game" whereby the table gets tipped over (revolution).


Things like democracy, laws and representative governments are all TECHNOLOGIES designed to address these problems by offering counter-balancing forces.


They don't always work... and the circumstances under which they were designed and created constantly change...


So no form is the final answer.


We currently need new forms for balance and feedback.


The Internet industry frankly has not played its role... and in fact has been destructive to the civic landscape thus far. While it has fundamentally changed a number of economic fundamentals*... it takes no responsibility for remedy or amelioration...


*It is (perhaps inadvertently) assisting and accelerating many of these adverse network effects... whether its HFT, MERS or the downside of the benefits it confers by increasing the concentration in many areas of commerce.... (the death of the retail outlet).. 


There are a number of things that can and should be done... here's one:


Characteristics of the Monied "Like" Button

http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2013/12/characteristics-of-monied-like-button.html


One-Click Micropayment Capability for Volume Solicitations and Multiple Providers

http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2013/12/one-click-micropayment-capability-for.html


Not the only needed tool. But both the capability... and the core it requires are needed elements for a more balanced Internet landscape. Represented by Perkins Coie.

ElianGonzalez
ElianGonzalez

 Try French Revolution. There's better hyperbole mileage.


Kristallnacht: what a repugnant comparison. What's next, San Francisco protests against tech companies are the new Nuremberg rallies of our time? Nazism has now been so thoroughly defanged.

JMWJMW
JMWJMW

The guy's rhetoric isn't exactly violative of Godwin's law, but it is argumentum ad Hitlerium. The bad outcome: he created sympathy for the anarchists and discontented behind the recent foolish protests.  As for Sam Biddle, foole: when will you take the anarchism seriously?  When their bricks crash through your car window?  But seriously, do VC's REALLY think?

Mike Pickus
Mike Pickus

A corollary to Godwin's Law: "whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress." http://goo.gl/oDl6 

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