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Tuesday, 28 January 2014 11:16

Silicon Valley billionaire flies Marie Antoinette flag

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If ever the ultra-rich had a cringe-worthy moment, it was the letter to the Wall Street Journal penned last week by Tom Perkins, the multi-billionaire founder of Silicon Valley VC, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Perkins, the “1%” rich are being victimised by the “99%” poor just like the Jews were victimised by Hitler’s Nazi Germany. As the son of Holocaust survivors from Poland, I take exception to this.

 With personal wealth estimated at US$8 billion, Perkins can afford to blow $150 million on the luxury yacht he recently built. He can afford to get his voice heard in the media. He can afford to buy the media. He can afford to buy politicians. He can afford his own private army!

No such luxuries were afforded the Jews of Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, which is why I never knew my four Grandparents, nine aunts and uncles, or the children they may have had if they hadn’t been murdered by Hitler’s forces.

It is hard to imagine what was going through Perkins’ mind when he wrote his attack on the vast mass of humanity – the nearly 7 billion souls who don’t have a voice at exclusive events like Davos or the annual Bilderberg gatherings. He obviously believes they shouldn’t have any voice at all, especially not a voice that criticises the fabulously wealthy or their excessive lifestyles.

Based on his letter  to the WSJ, Perkins seems to believe that spending a few million on various charities, as his ex-wife has done, should put them beyond criticism: “We have, for example, libelous (sic) and cruel attacks in the (San Francisco) Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.”

News flash – donating a small part of your wealth to charities does not necessarily make you a philanthropist and there are worse things than being called a snob.

What is most puzzling and unsettling is that in his letter Perkins accurately acknowledges some of the issues raised by the so-called “99%” in his home city: “There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay.”

Yes that’s right. Ordinary members of the public resent being evicted from their homes because they can no longer afford to pay the rent. And they certainly don’t like having their faces rubbed in it when Google buses pull up at public bus stops to take the privileged few to their high paying jobs.

Yet Perkins does not even bother to offer a view of the reasons behind this “outrage” and the rising inequalities that spawned the Occupy movement. Instead, Perkins describes it as: “a very dangerous drift in our American thinking.”

In fact, Perkins is right. The rising tide of financial inequality has spawned a very dangerous trend of class division between the haves and have-nots in the world and particularly in the US. What makes it especially dangerous is Perkins and his ilk’s “let them eat cake” mentality.

It is perhaps unfair to the memory of Marie Antoinette to drag her into this matter because there is no proof that she ever uttered those infamous words. Perkins, however, has indelibly stamped the thoughts of his kind with crystal clarity on the pages of history for those who may wish to look back on this era.


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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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