By Ruth Conniff
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Billionaire tech investor Tom Perkins has been defending his recent comment that being rich in America is similar to being a Jew in Nazi Germany. Along the way, Perkins also said that he would like to see America's electoral system altered to give more votes to those who pay the most in taxes.
"The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," he said Wednesday during a forum hosted by The Commonwealth Club. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?"
Perkins stoked outrage with a recent letter to The Wall Street Journal complaining about what he called "a rising tide of hatred" against America's ultra rich and comparing the situation to the Holocaust.
Fortune magazine's Adam Lashinsky went right at Perkins' controversial letter during the hour-long forum, confronting him with one of the glaringly obvious problems in his analogy.
"You must see the difference between, on the one hand a one percent, a small minority [in Nazi Germany] that was essentially powerless being persecuted by a majority, and on the other hand a small minority that is extremely powerful that has all the resources of modern society and wealth being persecuted -- I'll grant you -- by a majority, namely the other 99 percent," Lashinsky said.
"I think the parallel holds," Perkins replied. "The typical German had never met a Jew, but some of the Jews were wealthy, owned large department stores and so forth. So, they were very prominent. I think that it's a very good parallel. I think it holds."
"You think the average Occupy Wall Street protester has never met a rich person, or someone who rides a Google bus?" Lashinsky probed. "Is that your point?"
"Probably," Perkins replied. "I think so."
Later in the conversation, Perkins was asked what his "60-second idea" to "change the world" would be. He cautioned that his answer may "make you more angry than my letter to The Wall Street Journal," but went ahead anyway.
"I've been thinking about this, and I've got it..." he said. "Thomas Jefferson, at the beginning of this country, thought that to vote you have to be a landowner. Now that didn't last very long and the vote was given to everyone, but the basic idea was you had to be a taxpayer or own personal property to vote. That went by the boards."
Perkins continued: "Margaret Thatcher tried to change that in England in what became called a poll tax. The idea was that every single citizen in the U.K. had to pay something in taxes, even if they got it back in subsidies elsewhere. And if you didn't pay something in taxes, you couldn't vote. She was thrown under the bus by her own party for trying to push that through."
"So, the Tom Perkins system is you don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," he concluded. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?"
The audience cheered, clapped and laughed at the proposal, but Perkins was not kidding. Confronted by a CNN reporter after the forum, he said the statement was "intended to be outrageous, and it was."
The point of Perkins' appearance on Wednesday was to offer a defense of the 1 percent, a small minority of America that he considers to be "the most creative" sector of society. "I don't think people have any idea what the 1 percent is actually contributing to America," Perkins said, explaining that he fears the day when the ultra rich may be taxed out of existence.
The Congressional Research Service said in 2012 (PDF) that the bottom 50 percent of earners in America today hold just 1 percent of the nation's wealth. The top 10 percent hold 74.5 percent of America's wealth, the CRS found, whereas the top 1 percent have an even more-concentrated share at 34.5 percent. The same year, economists said the 1 percent saw their incomes rise almost 20 percent, while the bottom 99 percent saw a raise of just 1 percent.
Furthermore, a report published last month by Oxfam International (PDF) found that about half the world's private property is now held by the top 1 percent of Earth's population. The concentration is so great at the top that the top 85 wealthiest people own more than the bottom 50 percent of all people combined. The one percent's total aggregate wealth stands at around $110 trillion, Oxfam found, and 95 percent of the profits from America's economic recovery have gone straight to the top.
And even with all of this, Perkins still feels he's an oppressed minority who should have more votes than everyone else. How classy.
Photo: "Money," via Shutterstock.