A Plutocrat's Nazi Rant

Tom Perkins’s odd defense of the rich distracts from the income inequality debate we need
Photograph by Bloomberg

Let’s stipulate one thing upfront: Comparing your problem to the Holocaust is always a bad idea. There was only one, and nothing happening in the U.S. today is comparable to it.

Tom Perkins, a founder of the venture capital company Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has managed to intensify the illogic of this category error in a way that almost defies belief.

In a three-paragraph letter published Saturday in the Wall Street Journal, Perkins lamented that progressive anger toward the rich—as expressed by the Occupy movement and in protests against Google private buses for employees—was analogous to the Nazi persecution of Jews.

“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,’ ” he wrote alarmingly. He later stood by his view in an e-mail to Bloomberg News, then apologized (kind of) on Bloomberg Television.

Perkins was responding to an editorial in the newspaper about college speech codes that might violate the First Amendment. So perhaps the letter was intended as some kind of performance art. But if it has any value at all, it’s as an illustration of the depths to which the debate over inequality in the U.S. has sunk. Which is a shame, because it’s a critical debate to have. Wages for the middle class have stagnated. The gap between rich and poor is widening, and generational mobility has stalled.

The debate to have now is about how to create opportunities for the poor in an age of technological upheaval. That could mean expanding proven policies such as the earned income tax credit and considering innovative new ones such as education-savings accounts or equity-based components to social welfare. It could also mean overhauling the U.S. tax code to scale back preferences for the better off. To the long list of things inhibiting intelligent discussion on the topic, however, add an unhinged rant about Nazis.


    To read William Pesek on exporting people in Asia and Cass R. Sunstein on paranoid libertarians, go to: Bloomberg.com/view.

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