Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tom Perkins: Return to Aristocracy

There has been a lot written of late about inequality. Unsurprisingly people on the Right tend to defend inequality in general and the massively increased inequality of the past 40-50 years as a good thing. People on the Left tend to consider increased inequality a bad thing while some go so far as to consider virtually any inequality as problematic. The Right, or at least corporations and the monied class have been winning this argument for a very long time. To the extent there is increased energy on the Left about this it's a last ditch stand or cynical media posturing by politicians who'd like to change the subject from their own complicity in the workings of the machine while keeping those campaign contributions rolling in. But there are some people of the Right who are not content with being wealthy, not content with paying relatively low taxes by historical American standards or by the standards of other First World industrialized nations, and not content with having money treated as speech and having political bribery virtually legalized. Some people, aristocrats in all but name, are starting to wonder why those damned peasants have the right to vote at all.

I mean if you're so awesome and so intelligent that you've built or expanded multinational corporations, discovered new medicines, increased the limits of knowledge about the universe, or at the very least made yourself and your family more money than could be spent in one lifetime, is it really fair that some sap who hasn't even made a million dollars gets the same vote as you do? Some rich people think that they should have more say in society while more of us peasants should have no say. Venture capitalist Tom Perkins, last heard from comparing the wealthiest 1% Americans to Jews hunted and exterminated during the Holocaust, is such a man.

"The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," Perkins said. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?" 

The audience at the Commonwealth Club reacted with laughter. But Perkins offered no immediate indication that he was joking. Asked offstage if the proposal was serious, Perkins said: "I intended to be outrageous, and it was."

It is hard to overestimate how profoundly undemocratic and unAmerican this proposal is. There is always a tension between the private sector in which the boss can more or less operate as he sees fit (especially without unions) and the public sphere of democracy and a republican form of government in which everyone has a say and both private power and public power are limited by constitution and law. Evidently Perkins doesn't like our system any more. Perhaps he should consider leaving the country and resettling in a place like Afghanistan or Somalia where whatever the local Big Man says, goes. He might be much happier. The entire swath of American political history has tended towards expanding the franchise, not limiting it.

Perkins offers no reason as to why it would be a better thing if only rich people voted or had even more of an outsize impact on elections than they already do. I guess to him it's self-evident. But I think he's going to have to come up with a better argument than "I'm rich and dislike the current President."
An aristocratic system tends not to last if you have other elements like an educated middle class, social safety nets, unions and other non-government support groups, etc. Because sooner or later people without the vote or with limited political say realize that they greatly outnumber the rich and have no need to bow and scrape before them. But to be an American is not to bow and scrape before anyone NOR to want anyone to do that before you. Perkins should learn how to be an American. I think he was apparently born in the wrong country and wrong century. If nothing else, Perkins should realize that a society that moves too far towards plutocracy and autocracy eventually gets balanced out by a Robespierre...
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