Breaking: rich, old, white man says he's the victim

Faith Merino · January 28, 2014 · Short URL:

Why Tom Perkins' #sorrynotsorry apology was so off-the-mark

When is it time to do the ol’ boardroom cloak-and-dagger routine? When your rich, old, white, male co-founder compares himself and his rich, old, white friends to Jews in the Holocaust.

Tom Perkins became a big topic of discussion on Monday with a bizarre letter he wrote to the Wall Street Journal (in response to a story about campus censorship [??]) in which he had the massive, MASSIVE balls to compare protests over income inequality in America to Germany’s Kristallnacht (which was more or less the street rioting and attacks on Jewish businesses that ultimately catalyzed the Holocaust--totes exactly the same thing, brah).

Not content to merely offend the thousands who read the letter on Monday morning, Perkins took to Bloomberg West to offend many, many more by saying #sorrynotsorry.

Perkins got one thing right: no one should ever, ever compare their own plight—however awful it may seem—to the Holocaust, because as soon as you do that, you’re just an asshole. But then lo! he goes on to repeatedly compare himself and the “rich” to millions of slaughtered Jews, explaining that the Jews were Germany’s “one percent.”

Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers was quick to distance itself from Perkins’ statements, noting that Perkins hasn’t been involved in KPCB for years. Marc Andreessen also castigated Tom Perkins: “His positions just go to prove that he is the leading asshole in the state.” Investor Hunter Walk tweeted: “You know, one could see this as Perkins’ greatest gift-> uniting the 1% & 99% in outrage against his OpEd. Let the healing begin.”

And then you have Tim Draper of DFJ, who, in true tone-deaf style, told BusinessInsider:

“On Tom Perkins, he is a brilliant man, and he is identifying schadenfreude, something that continues to be a thorn in humanity’s side. The bitter taste of envy brings us all down. I like to celebrate the wealth and success of great heroes like Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Larry Ellison. I think it makes us all better to strive to be better and brighter … and I like a good bus.”

So how about we stop here, because this is ultimately the reality-detachment that is shaping the conversation in the country into one of hard-working "Haves" and lazy, entitled "Have-Nots". Are the 99% simply jealous? Do they simply want free stuff without having to work for it? Because boot straps! (Perkins pointed out that he was not born in the 1% and is a “self-made man.” No, sir. You were born white and male in the 1930s when redlining and hiring discrimination were the norm. You were not “self-made.”)

In his Bloomberg interview, Tom Perkins repeatedly spoke of the “rich” like an ethnic minority—indeed, going so far as to call the rich a minority several times. His solution to the problem: Keep on keepin’ on. “The solution is less interference, lower taxes, and let the rich do what the rich do, which is get richer. But along the way, they bring everybody else with them.”

And we’re back to the good ol’ Trickle Down theory of economics. Is it working in San Francisco? Let’s take a look! This interactive map from the Urban Institute shows that the poor are still just as prevalent in San Francisco and surrounding areas, they’ve just been moved into more concentrated pockets. Ghettoized, if you will.

Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have the highest concentrations of millionaires in the state, and they also have the highest poverty rates. Altogether, 22% of Californians are living in poverty, which is 5.8 percentage points higher than the official poverty measure, which does not take housing costs into account. Even more atrocious, more than a quarter of California children are living in poverty.

Is this because we have a shortage of job-creating rich people—or as Perkins calls them, the “creative one percent”? Nnnnnooooope. California has the largest concentration of millionaires in the country. And wouldn’t you know, it also has the highest tax rate—13.3%--for those making $1 million or more. And there’s no indication that those millionaires are leaving in droves, as so many direly forecasted when California raised taxes on the wealthiest residents. In 2013, California gained an additional 1,600 people making more than $30 million a year or more.

But ultimately, we need to stop with this whole “rich people create jobs” nonsense. No. When average people are compensated fairly (as in not being relegated into low-paying indefinite temp-contract worker positions by major tech firms—Amazon, I’m looking at you), they make enough money to spend it on the products those companies produce—which drives up profits and produces more jobs. Rich people are not poor people’s Daddy Warbucks (which Perkins doesn’t seem to understand as he waxes on about the millions—MMMMILLIONS—that he gives to charity every year). The economy is not one group giving another group some money. It’s a cycle of mutual selective pressures.

The rich don’t even necessarily benefit the economy by spending more, as they’re more likely to spend their money on asset goods rather than product goods. They buy things like houses, which artificially inflates the housing market and prices poor people out of their homes.

Is the solution, as Tom Perkins suggests, to lower taxes on businesses and scrap regulations? Sure, we could go that route and end up like Texas, which has the most lenient business regulations in the country—and the highest rate of on-site worker deaths in the country. Why not? Who’s it going to hurt (except poor people, minorities, and immigrants)? OR—or—maybe we could address real issues in hiring and housing discrimination that keep people poor, such as the fact that resumes from mothers and housing applications from black people are routinely rejected at higher rates than the same resumes and applications from white men? 

But I’m getting away from the real point here, which is that the rich are not being persecuted. They’re not a “minority” in the same way being black, Hispanic, and/or a woman makes you a minority. And when you compare rich people to Jews in the Holocaust, you prove how disconnected you really are from reality. 

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