One of Silicon Valley's most venerable venture capitalists has provoked a storm by saying protests against private buses for hi-tech workers in the Bay Area, and the "demonization of the rich" by some, has parallels with the German Kristallnacht pogrom.
"This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?" wrote Tom Perkins in an open letter in the Wall Street Journal.
He opined that the Occupy movement, and disquiet over the salaries of Silicon Valley technology company employees driving up housing costs, were "a rising tide of hatred of the successful one per cent," likening the anger to the Nazi campaign against the one per cent of Jews in Germany – which led to a night of violence on November 9, 1938, that left 91 dead and 30,000 sent to the camps.
Another symbol of impending doom listed by Perkins was the San Francisco Chronicle calling the author Danielle Steel (and Perkins' second wife, who he described as "our number-one celebrity") a snob in an article.
Perkins joined HP in 1963, and co-founded the VC partnership of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) nine years later. The firm has funded most of the biggest names in the technology industry, with early investments in Compaq, Netscape, AOL, Google, Symantec and Amazon. Perkins is still listed as a Partner Emeritus at the firm, but the industry he pioneered has been quick to disavow him.
Tom Perkins has not been involved in KPCB in years. We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree.— Kleiner Perkins (@kpcb) January 25, 2014
Marc Andreessen, who worked closely with Perkins on the Netscape launch before co-founding the Andreessen Horowitz VC partnership (which works with KPCB) tweeted: "Before the collective freakout extends too far: Tom Perkins has not been VC for over 20 years, mostly uninvolved with the industry for long time."
Perkins, 82, made a fortune picking winners with KPCB, and went into semi-retirement in the early years of the new millennium. He devoted much time, and between $150m and $300m, developing the then–world's largest sailing ship, the Maltese Falcon, and visiting his 16th-century English manor house that once belonged to Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page.
Perkins last hit the headlines when he rejoined the HP board in 2005 after then-CEO Carly Fiorina was ousted. The following year he resigned from the board after learning that then-chairwoman Patricia Dunn had authorized a probe into boardroom leaks, which spectacularly backfired for Dunn when some of the investigators controversially obtained the private phone logs of board members and nine technology journalists. Perkins went public with the story after HP declined to mention the reason for his resignation.
The resultant criminal investigation forced Dunn to quit, although she successfully argued that she had no idea illegal methods would be used to gather personal telephone records, and charges against her were dropped. One investigator involved in the surveillance op did get a three-month sentence.
In a Bloomberg interview today Perkins now says he regrets using the word Kristallnacht, saying it was a terrible word to have chosen, but reaffirmed his belief that attempts to increase regulation or raise taxes were "class warfare"*, and said he didn’t regret the message.
"A very important part of America, namely the creative one per cent, is threatened," he asserted. "The one per cent are not causing the inequality. They are the job creators. It's obscene to demonize the rich for being rich and doing what the rich do, which is get richer by creating opportunity for others." ®