The Rise of the Asshole Rich.

In Crumbs, The Actual Factual by Quiet Lunch1 Comment

Tom Perkins is a billionaire venture capitalist  who made his fortune backing Silicon Valley start-ups. He helped turn AOL, Google, Amazon, and a host of other companies into household names.  He made some shrewd decisions, and did very well.  So far so good.  No one begrudges him and his success.

But like so many of the uber-rich these days, he’s a deeply deluded man with an inexplicable persecution complex.

A few weeks ago he published an Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal comparing the plight of America’s super wealthy with that of the Jews in 1930s Germany during the run-up to Kristallnacht.  Apparently he and his friends feel demonized by the Occupy Movement calling out the 1% for rigging the system in their favor.

This is clearly the same thing as being the target of a state sponsored orgy of murder and mayhem where hundreds of people are killed, thousands of synagogues are burned, and tens of thousands of people are sent off to concentration camps.

His argument would be a little more obvious if it made any sense.  And somehow, several of his friends seem to think it does.  In fact this is not the first time a billionaire compared populist anger with unfair economic practices to Nazi brutality.

In 2010 Blackstone CEO Steve Schwartzman said that the Obama administration’s proposal to get rid of tax loopholes for private equity firms was “Like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939”.  For the record, Steve Schwartzman is Jewish.  I don’t know if that makes what he said more or less repulsive.

Since Tom Perkins isn’t the first tycoon to use the Nazi comparison in public, I’m guessing that these guys have been saying this kind of stuff to each other in private for a while now. Fellow billionaire Sam Zell defended Perkins, saying “I guess my feeling is that he’s right. The 1 percent are being pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so. The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder.”

This statement is both logically incoherent and factually incorrect.  Logically speaking, there’s not enough resources to go around for everyone to have an eight-figure net worth, no matter how hard people work.  And the fact of the matter is that lots of poor and middle class people work their asses off just trying to stay afloat.  Anyone who takes a second job to keep their children fed is working plenty hard already.

At least that’s my opinion.  Kevin O’Leary, the host of ABC’s Shark Tank and a wealthy entrepreneur, doesn’t see it that way.  In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that I kind of like that show, and I think he’s a pretty decent host.  But the man is monstrously out of touch.

When asked to comment on the fact that the world’s 85 richest people had a net worth equal to the bottom half of the global population, he said that it was “fantastic and this is a great thing because it inspires everybody, gets them motivation to look up to the one percent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people, I’m going to fight hard to get up to the top.’”

Yes. Because that’s all that’s standing between the masses and great wealth: inspiration.  If only people were more inspired to make money they would be fine.  Which makes me wonder if Mr. O’Leary has ever met…well, anyone, really.  In my 35 years on this Earth I can probably count the number of people I’ve known who didn’t want to be rich on two hands.  And half of them were born into money.

And I’d like to ask him how $5 billion dollars is somehow more inspiring than $500 million.  Those numbers are both orders of magnitude more than most people will ever see.  After a certain point it’s all monopoly money anyway.  How is engineering our tax policy so that the Walton family saves an extra billion or two somehow going to inspire people to work harder?

Speaking of the Walton’s, there are six of them on that list of the world’s 85 richest people.  And they’ve never had to work a minute in their life.  What exactly do they inspire people to do?  Get born to the right parents?

The Koch brother’s are another family of billionaires who like to pretend they are the product of their own business savvy and entrepreneurial spirit.  The fact that their father was one of the richest men in world is a mere coincidence.

And while you’ll never hear it from the The Donald, his father, Fred Trump, was a real estate mogul with a few hundred million worth of rental properties.

Of course, not every tycoon is a narcissist with daddy issues.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are both self made men who give substantial portions of their money to charity.  But that doesn’t mean they weren’t lucky as well.  Bill Gates was born in 1955 – which made him the perfect age to invent the operating system that would find itself in nearly every home computer.  If he was born in 1945 or 65, he’d be an upper middle class lawyer living anonymously in the Seattle suburbs.

But these exceptions don’t disprove the rule. It seems that large chunks of the super rich are indeed delusional assholes these days.  Something must be gnawing at them.  Perhaps in their subconscious they know that the deck is stacked, and that their fantastic lifestyles aren’t purely the result of their own brainpower and work ethic.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t jump through hoops insisting that it was.

While they love to justify their position by talking about Adam Smith and the invisible hand, perhaps it’s another quote of his that’s bothering them:

“The rate of profit…is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin.”

(An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, bk.1, ch.11, conclusion.)


  1. very well reasoned article. I especially liked the quote from Adam Smith.

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