Former Venture Capitalist Tom Perkins wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal criticizing the actions of the San Francisco government and it’s intent to mobilize people against the tech employees that commute to Silicon Valley from the city in private buses.
Venture capitalist Mark Suster took Perkins to task for being highly insensitive. Suster was right to chastise him, but we need to go even further.
I am very bored, and find it offensive, with the constant use of Nazi’s, Hitler, and the Holocaust to compare what happened then to what is happening today. I understand the reason people do-it’s an extremely easy emotional appeal. It’s not just Perkins.
What the Nazis did was unprecedented in human history. They systematically targeted, and executed the destruction of one sect of people. In the wake of that, they also killed millions of other people in concentration camps that didn’t fit in with their vision of the future. Pol Pot, Darfur, North Korea, Pogroms of Russia, China, Cuba, and other countries don’t compare. The Nazis recorded, measured, and categorized it all. They did it so efficiently, it is possible to research and find out a lot of what happened to certain individuals today. We should never forget what happened. Part of not forgetting is not demeaning it.
As a trustee of the National World War Two Museum, I have met survivors of the Holocaust. I have broken bread with men that liberated the camps. I met many men that were prepared to sacrifice all to free people they didn’t know. It goes without saying that every day we should remember the millions of civilians and thousands of men that paid the ultimate sacrifice to free people imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis.
We owe them a debt we can never repay. We are free Americans today.
Yesterday, VC Fred Wilson wrote a blog about This for That. In entrepreneurship circles, many people use shorthand to describe startup businesses. “It’s like Uber for Boats.” or “It’s like Facebook for Programmers.”. This is frustrating for venture capitalists because the description muddles the opportunity. It obscures the real business model and makes it hard to invest.
The same goes for using what happened in Nazi Germany from 1930-1945 and making a direct comparison to events of today. When you find yourself slipping into that comparison, consciously stop yourself. It’s flimsy logic and reflects poorly on you. It also discounts what happened back in history.
All that being said, the underlying point Perkins was trying to make is relevant. The rich in the United States are being marginalized and held up for ridicule. It isn’t being done for any other reason than political gain. It starts at the top. The President of the United States has used his bully pulpit to openly criticize and try and create class division. He has used the emotions of envy, jealousy, and fear to get the movement started.
Obama cleverly has couched his criticism behind politics. Criticizing Republicans is okay to my Democratic friends in the VC community. Demonizing the wealthy is lazy. It’s easy. For some reason, it is tremendously hard for people to take an clear eyed look at everything and get them to realize the emperor has no clothes.
Obama’s approach is wrong for the future of America. It’s just as wrong as Perkins using a poor metaphor to describe what is happening. Instead of creating class division, we ought to be teaching the lessons of what it takes to get to the upper class. There are deeper lessons that need to be taught here. Unfortunately, they are in danger of being obscured by hyperbole.
The path to becoming rich in America is a hard road. Not everyone would want to make the sacrifice, or take the risks necessary to getting there. But, certain aspects of the path are clear. There are things you can do to improve your chances. Ironically, the tech community is freaking out about the 1% and the technological advances that are putting people out of work. Those same advances are lifting up civilization, and making it possible for previously high cost services to be distributed cheaply to many people.
The income divide in the US is more a result of Federal Reserve and government policy than any technological change. It also goes back to the same things that have always created wealthy people in the US; education, stable families, It also is freedom and the entrepreneurial spirit that is core to American DNA. We have always been a shining light in the darkness. It’s important to remember how we got here, so we can keep it this way.