Tom Perkins, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers founder, addresses "war on the 1 percent" comments 

click to enlarge Tom Perkins
  • AP Photo/Ben Margot, file
  • In this Oct. 30, 2007 file photo, Tom Perkins smiles during an interview, in San Francisco.

No one yelled. No protesters chanted on Market Street. No pies were tossed.

But controversial, self-appointed spokesman of the 1 percent, Tom Perkins, said his piece during a speech in San Francisco Thursday night.

At times contradictory, surprising and simply perplexing, Perkins opined on everything from President Lyndon Johnson’s War On Poverty, which he called a failure, to teachers unions and tech startups.

The 82-year-old co-founder of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers made headlines earlier this year when he wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal comparing what he sees as “a war on the 1 percent” with Adolf Hitler’s persecution and systematic murder of more than 6 million Jews.

He has since apologized for his reaching comparison, but Thursday night he stood by many of his opinions before a friendly audience at the Commonwealth Club on Market Street as he batted away questions from his interviewer, Fortune Magazine’s Adam Lashinsky.

“You shouldn’t compare anything to the Holocaust,” Perkins said as kind of an apology.

Still, he stood by what he saw as a similarity between the persecution of the 1 percent of the population in Germany that was Jewish during World War II to recent attacks on the rich in America. The major difference, he said, is that politicians and others are using the 1 percent in America as scapegoats for this country’s ills.

“I think a parallel holds,” he said, describing it more as a case of “economic extinction not physical extinction.”

What Perkins calls the “war on the rich” is mainly about taxing the wealth of what he believes is the “most creative” part of society.

Perkins said economic inequality is a troublesome issue, but blames its growth on high taxes and the safety net created during the War on Poverty in the 1960s. Johnson’s programs, said Perkins, contributed to the breakdown of the family by making “it possible to have single mothers support children without a working man in the household.”

Curiously, he supports one of the major programs created under the Johnson administration: Medicare. “I think Medicare is great. It’s just under funded,” he said.

Lashinsky was not all silence, countering such statements, by pointing out that the War on Poverty is widely seen as a success since it brought many people out of poverty.

An avowed lover of San Francisco, Perkins said the housing crunch and inequality in The City is indeed linked to Google and the like, but little can be done to counter its impacts in a place where everyone wants to live. “I think you ignore the protesters and keep doing it,” he said of the Google bus protests.

True to form, he gave the audience a zinger to end the night. When asked if there is one thing he would do to make the world better, Perkins said, he’d only give the right to vote to taxpayers. “If you pay $1 million in taxes you should get 1 million votes,” he said.

Perkins backtracked on the statement in a news conference after his talk, but not completely. Voting rights, he said, should be tied to some kind of financial stake or contribution to ones country.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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