Venture capital pioneer Tom Perkins apologized for comparing today’s treatment of wealthy Americans to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, though he said he stood by his message around class warfare.
“I’d deeply apologize to you and anyone who has mistaken my reference to Kristallnacht as a sign of overt or latent anti-Semitism,” he said in an interview Monday on Bloomberg Television. “This is not the case.”
Perkins, 82, was addressing a firestorm he had created with a letter to the editor in the Jan. 25 edition of the Wall Street Journal, in which he compared resentment of the very rich in the U.S. to a “progressive war on the American 1 percent,” akin to attacks on Jews in the 1930s. In the wake of the letter, the venture capital firm he co-founded, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, distanced itself from him, saying Perkins hadn’t been involved in the firm in years. Other venture investors including Marc Andreessen also criticized Perkins for his remarks.
Perkins told Bloomberg Television that he made the analogy between wealthy Americans and Jews because the rich are a minority, like the Jews who made up just 1 percent of the German population before the Holocaust. He said he regretted using the word Kristallnacht, a night in 1938 when Nazis coordinated attacks against Jews, in his letter.
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“It was a terrible misjudgment,” he said, adding that he has written a letter of apology to the Anti-Defamation League. “I do not regret the message at all. Any time the majority starts to demonize any minority, no matter what it is, it is wrong and dangerous.”
Of the venture firm that he co-founded, Perkins said “they chose to throw me under the bus.” He said that as he has distanced himself from Kleiner Perkins, “there has been a corresponding decline in the firm.”
Perkins, who co-founded Kleiner Perkins in 1972 with partner Eugene Kleiner, has said he was reacting to events such as the “Occupy movement” and outrage about Google’s busing of employees from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, in writing his letter. He told Bloomberg Television that he understands where his critics are coming from.
“I have members of my own family in trailer parks,” he said. “Not immediate relatives, but family.”
Perkins also said his fix for inequality is “less interference, lower taxes.” He added that what should happen is to “let the rich do what the rich do, which is get richer, but along the way they bring everyone else with them, when the system is working.”
Perkins said given his age, “I am at peace with myself. The fact that everyone now hates me is part of the game.”