Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tom Perkins and an Embarrassment of Riches

The $100 million yacht with which Tom Perkins ran over and kill a French doctor in 1996. He was fined $10,000 for the crime because there is a different criminal code for the extremely wealthy.
Billionaire Tom Perkins believes the extremely wealthy are a persecuted class. When I was young during the anti-communist frenzy of the late 1950's and early 1960's, being excessively wealthy was considered a sin. The Great Depression had wrung out of the population any respect for extreme wealth. The marginal tax rate under Republican President Ike Eisenhower was 90%, getting to be obscenely wealthy was virtually impossible.

Phrases like "obscene wealth" and "filthy rich" were common. The richest men in America were freaks like J. Paul Getty and Howard Hughes, misers and recluses that no sane person would want to replicate. Getty once berated his wife for spending too much money on health care for their ailing son Timmy who died at the age of 12. Getty also famously refused to pay ransom to rescue his grandson from kidnappers; he wanted any ransom to be tax deductible. Howard Hughes ended up living in squalor in the penthouses of five-star hotels he owned.

Wealthy people like George Romney and Jack Kennedy, who would be considered pikers by today's uber-rich standards, tried to live down their wealth, living simple middle-class lives, at least for public consumption.

In history there are occasions when the aristocratic rich become so arrogantly exploitative that the public rises up to destroy them as they have become monsters.
French revolutionaries bringing down the Aristocratic Hydra.
Today, we have millionaires pleading poverty, stating they cannot make ends meet on six and seven figure salaries because minimum wage workers are too greedy. We have billionaires like Perkins implying they are the Sun that warms the earth and without their economic prowess humanity would quickly descend into the Stone Age.
How Tom Perkins sees himself.
The best thing that could happen to the nation is a return to the higher marginal tax rates of previous prosperous decades.
The worse alternative is to continue allowing an aristocratic class to separate from the rest of the people until either the economy collapses again or the people rise up to kill the monsters pretending to be our financial gods.

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