Tom Perkins addresses his thorny '1 percent' comment

The outspoken venture capitalist elaborates on his controversial remarks about the rich and Nazi Germany during an interview in San Francisco.

Tom Perkins of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, September 11, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO -- This much we already know: Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers co-founder Tom Perkins doesn't steer clear of controversy.

Perkins, of course, has been at the center of a firestorm in recent weeks, for comments he made comparing criticism of the tech industry's rich to crimes against the Jewish population of fascist Nazi Germany. "I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich,'" he wrote in a letter to the Wall Street Journal.

"I spilled a little more blood than I planned. But I'm not sorry I did," he said Thursday evening during an energetic and wide-ranging fireside chat at the Commonwealth Club here.

Perkins would later apologize for the comparison during an interview on Bloomberg TV, specifically for using the work Kristallnacht -- a night of coordinated attacks that left at least 90 Jewish people dead and 30,000 in concentration camps. But he stood by the overall message of his letter.

Instead of letting the episode fade with the news cycles, he didn't hold back on Thursday. The moderator for the evening, Fortune's Adam Lashinsky, asked about the different advantages a powerful population like the tech industry has in defending itself, versus a small, oppressed ethnic minority group. Perkins' response: "If Germany had had American gun laws, there would have never been Hitler." Asked if he was referring to America's guns being more widely available, he agreed. (He added, though, that he's not particularly a fan of America's gun laws.)

Perkins' comments have come during a period of discontent in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, as a culture clash plays out between the technology industry and the nontech community. Recently, there have been protests blocking shuttle buses that take tech workers from cities in the greater Bay Area to corporate campuses in the Valley, and howling in response to rising housing costs and an uptick in evictions.

"I find it incomprehensible to get angry about Google buses," he said, noting their benefits. "Is Google responsible for rising rents in SF? Indirectly, yes. What can they do about it? Nothing."

Searching for a root of the problem, Perkins reached way back. He traced it back to Lyndon B. Johnson and what Perkins said was the failed War on Poverty. Though he didn't mind taking a few jabs at the current administration. He admonished "astronomical" government spending, also mentioning that the anti-business sentiment is the fault of the Obama administration. "The government can't create a job to save its soul," he added.

Perkins did, however, offer up that the long-term answer to wealth inequality lies in education reform, blaming the teacher's union for the current state of things. "But there is no quick answer."

 

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