Tom Perkins, the legendary venture capitalist who provoked a firestorm by comparing the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany to the way rich people are treated in the United States, on Thursday offered a provocative idea about how to “change the world.” During an interview with a Fortune magazine jornalist, Perkins said that only U.S. taxpayers should be able to vote in elections.
But that’s not all. Perkins went on to say that wealthy people should get more votes than others because they pay more in taxes. The comments by Perkins, who made his fortune as one of the founders of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, provoked laughter at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, where he was being interviewed by Adam Lashinsky of Fortune. Perkins would later say that his comments were meant to be “provocative,” according to Reuters, and at least one reporter at the event said the 82-year-old later claimed he wasn’t being serious.
Earlier in the interview, Perkins elaborated on his controversial view that the wealthiest Americans — sometimes called the 1% — are currently being “persecuted” because they are rich. “The extreme progressivity of taxation is a form of persecution,” Perkins said. “I think if you’ve paid 75% of your life’s earnings to the government, you are being persecuted.” In the U.S., wealthy people pay higher rates of income tax — in what’s known as a progressive tax system — in part to fund social programs for less affluent people.
Later in the interview, Lashinksy asked Perkins for a “60-second idea to change the world.” The venture capitalist’s response: “The Tom Perkins system is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes. But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you should get a million votes. How’s that?” (Video below, see comments at 1:03:00.) Perkins later elaborated on those comments to Fortune by saying that because 50% of registered U.S. voters don’t pay taxes, “we got ourselves into a mess.”
Perkins’ latest comments came three weeks after a letter he wrote to the Wall Street Journal provoked a furor. “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,’” said Perkins. “This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”
Kristallnacht, also referred to as “Night of the Broken Glass,” was an overnight pogrom in 1938 against Jews in Nazi Germany and parts of Austria, during which at least 91 people were killed and 30,000 more were sent to concentration camps. Historians consider Kristallnacht to be a turning point in the Nazi campaign to exterminate Jews, during what become known as the Holocaust, in which an estimated six million Jews were killed.
Perkins would later retract his use of the term Kristallnacht to describe what’s happening to the wealthiest Americans. Perkins told Bloomberg that Kristallnacht was a “terrible word to have chosen,” but said that his point was “when you start to use hatred against a minority it can get out of control. It’s absurd to demonize the rich for doing what the rich do, and getting richer by creating opportunity for others.”
In the wake of Perkins’ comments, Kleiner Perkins, the firm he co-founded, sent the following Tweet: “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.” In the interview on Thursday, Perkins expressed disappointment at the company’s response. “They could have chosen not to say anything, but instead they threw me under the bus,” said Perkins. (He is still listed as Partner Emeritus on the firm’s website.)
Founded in 1972, Kleiner Perkins is one of the most famous venture capital firms in U.S. history, with past investments in a wide range of technology companies, including Amazon.com, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Genentech, Google, Intuit, Juniper Networks, Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Symantec, Verisign, WebMD, Zynga and many others.