Wednesday, February 19, 2014

More money does not mean more value

    In the legendary exchange between writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Fitzgerald asserted, “The rich are different from you and me.”  Hemingway famously retorted, “Yes, they have more money.”
    Venture capitalist Tom Perkins in a recent letter to The Wall Street Journal asserted that the rich are not only different than you and me, they are better. Rather than being appreciated and emulated, Perkins’ view is that the wealthiest Americans are being “persecuted” by being asked to pay taxes to fund social programs for less affluent people. He compared that persecution to the notorious Nazi attacks on Jewish property owners during what is known as Kristallnacht.
    Perkins’ later regret over the comparison was possibly reinforced by the almost instant negative reactions of his former partners at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. They were quick to point out that he plays little role in the current company.
    Perkins didn’t stop with the obviously thoughtless Nazi analogy. He doubled down on his basic point, that the rich are more deserving than the rest of us because they are rich. Without explaining how he knows, Perkins asserted that the rich simply work harder. Apparently, the mere existence of the money is proof enough.
    Perkins and real estate magnate Sam Zell, who immediately came to Perkins defense, argue that the rest of us should emulate the wealthy rather envy them. It’s doubtful that Perkins or Zell actually knows anyone who is struggling to get by although they work full time for the average American wage. Are single parents, or families trying to hold on in small towns where they have lived for generations, or grandparents facing retirement without a hefty trust fund really working less hard than those who acquired their money the old-fashioned way, by inheriting it?
    Perkins didn’t even stop there. In both his WSJ letter and a speech to the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, he also said he thinks people who pay a million dollars in taxes should get a million votes. His idea is that the country should be more like a corporation in which stockholders vote by number of shares.
    There is certainly nothing wrong with being rich, nor is there any doubt that vast wealth is often the result of incredibly hard work. Perkins’ and Zell’s analysis is anathema to those who believe that every person has value and any citizen is the equal of any other citizen. Their attitudes are not only undemocratic, they are arrogant, mean spirited and deserve the derision of a nation founded on the idea that all men are created equal.

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