Sil­i­con Val­ley’s 1 per­cent: Stingi­ness is not the prob­lem

Are the people who drive Sil­i­con Val­ley a bunch of self-cen­tered eli­tists? Let’s de­bate busi­ness di­ver­sity — not make gross gen­er­al­iza­tions about “the wealthy”

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W hen in pub­lic dis­course did ar­gu­ments start los­ing their ground­ing in facts? When did stereo­types start rul­ing the day?

The cur­rent is­sue evok­ing such vac­u­ous par­ti­san­ship is whether the “wealthy” — and more specif­i­cally, the ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, en­trepreneurs, and ex­ec­u­tives who drive Sil­i­con Val­ley — are a bunch of self-cen­tered, stingy, even sex­ist and ageist eli­tists.

The cen­ter of this tem­pest is a let­ter to the edi­tor pub­lished by The Wall

Street Jour­nal in which Tom Perkins, founder of Sil­i­con Val­ley VC firm Kleiner Perkins Cau­field & Byers, com­pares the “de­mo­niza­tion” of the wealthy in the U.S. to Nazi Ger­many’s “war on its ‘one per­cent,’ namely its Jews.” Perkins con­cludes: “This is a very dan­ger­ous drift in our Amer­i­can think­ing. Kristall­nacht was un­think­able in 1930; is its de­scen­dant ‘pro­gres­sive’ rad­i­cal­ism un­think­able now?”

Now, I’m no fan of the anti-cap­i­tal­ist class war­fare of the far left, as I wrote in a col­umn ti­tled ‘War On Busi­ness And In­no­va­tion,’ back in 2010, near the bot­tom of the re­ces­sion. But com­par­ing just about any move­ment to Nazi Ger­many is clear ev­i­dence that your po­si­tion is in­tel­lec­tu­ally bank­rupt. Quacks on the far left and right have been mak­ing such com­par­isons for decades. The founder of one of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s most suc­cess­ful VC firms should know bet­ter, and he should com­port him­self bet­ter.

The anti-wealth ex­am­ples that Perkins cites — the Oc­cupy Wall Street protests na­tion­wide, a Bay Area back­lash against the lux­ury buses that take Google em­ploy­ees to work, con­cerns that tech mil­lion­aires are push­ing up Bay Area real es­tate prices and push­ing out long-time res­i­dents — are hardly the stuff of the Third Re­ich and the Kristall­nacht ram­page. (Perkins, to his credit, later apol­o­gized.)

But there’s an­other ex­treme at play. In a New York Times col­umn head­lined ‘Para­noia of the Plu­to­crats,’ No­bel Prize eco­nom­ics lau­re­ate Paul Krug­man writes that “Mr. Perkins isn’t that much of an out­lier” but is part of “a class of people who are alarm­ingly de­tached from re­al­ity.”

“Ev­ery group finds it­self fac­ing crit­i­cism, and ends up on the los­ing side of pol­icy dis­putes, some­where along the way; that’s democ­racy,” Krug­man writes. “The ques­tion is what hap­pens next. Nor­mal people take it in stride; even if they’re an­gry and bit­ter over po­lit­i­cal set­backs, they don’t cry per­se­cu­tion, com­pare their crit­ics to Nazis and in­sist that the world re­volves around their hurt feel­ings.” OK, so far so good, un­til he adds: “But the rich are dif­fer­ent from you and me.”

Krug­man pre­sents Perkins as the poster boy for the hated “1 per­cent,” an ab­nor­mal col­lec­tive pre­dis­posed to hoard­ing their wealth, cry­ing per­se­cu­tion, and com­par­ing their crit­ics to Nazis. (Ev­i­dently the non-rich are all up­stand­ing cit­i­zens.) This from a wealthy for­mer En­ron ad­viser who’s now a colum­nist for the elit­ist New York

Times. Per­haps Krug­man doesn’t see the irony.

If we want to de­bate whether Sil­i­con Val­ley or Wall Street or Wash­ing­ton or any other “class” of people tends to be in­su­lar or doesn’t do enough so­cial good with their riches or in­flu­ence, let’s de­bate those is­sues, pre­sent­ing facts rather than gross gen­er­al­iza­tions. Tech blog­ger and aca­demic Vivek Wad­hwa (for one) has been mak­ing this broad case against Sil­i­con Val­ley in a se­ries of

re­cent pieces in the Wash­ing­ton Post.

In his re­cent post, ti­tled ‘Enough is enough, Sil­i­con Val­ley must end its elitism and ar­ro­gance,’ Wad­hwa ar­gues per­sua­sively that Sil­i­con Val­ley’s work­force isn’t nearly as di­verse as it should be, point­ing to Twit­ter’s male- dom­i­nated board (and the CEO’s de­fense of it), a sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dal at Kleiner Perkins, and past state­ments from the prin­ci­pals of Face­book, Y Com­bi­na­tor, and other Sil­i­con Val­ley firms about their

Rob Pre­ston

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