Mark Shields: The rich as underdogs
By Mark Shields
Tom Perkins, a venture capitalist with a net worth of reportedly $8 billion, sits on the board of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal. So it was not surprising that when Perkins wrote a letter to the editor whining about the shabby treatment of the nation’s richest 1 percent, the newspaper would publish it.
What did surprise some, however, was what Perkins wrote about the persecution of the plutocrats: “Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, 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.'”
Perkins warns of “a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”
Kristallnacht was Hitler’s 1938 public declaration of war against the Jewish citizens of Germany and Austria when, in two nights, over 1,000 synagogues were burned, and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked and destroyed. Ninety-one Jews were killed, and 30,000 more were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
After you read Perkins’ letter — which The Wall Street Journal published and then after widespread criticism of its language and logic, editorially defended — you want to ask the billionaire writer just one question: If you’re so rich, then why aren’t you smart?
But Perkins is not the only billionaire with a persecution complex. Back in President Barack Obama’s term when the new administration briefly threatened to stop giving preferential treatment to the fortunes earned in private equity, called “carried interest,” by taxing them at only 15 percent and treating them the same as paychecks earned by firefighters and nurses, Stephen Schwarzman, head of the buyout king Blackstone Group, with a reported personal net worth of $7.7 billion, was furious. With characteristic understatement, he fumed, “It’s a war. It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”
Apparently, these wise men have chosen not to remember their dividends and capital gains were taxed at exactly the same rate as ordinary income in the much-praised Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was championed and signed into law by the modern hero of American conservatism, former President Ronald Reagan.
Let’s show a little empathy for the beleaguered 1 percent. After all, since Obama became the nation’s 44th president, the Dow Jones has merely doubled. During the first Obama administration, as the nation struggled to emerge from the Great Recession, the real growth in income for the bottom 99 percent of Americans between 2009 and 2012 was a measly 0.4 percent. During that same period, the real income of the 1 percent shot up by 31.4 percent.
Let’s hope it’s of some solace to the abused rich to realize that 95 percent of the total growth in all income in the U.S. between 2009 and 2012 went to the deserving richest, their top 1 percent.
This reminds me of a favorite story told by the writer Kurt Vonnegut about his good friend Joseph Heller, who wrote the profoundly humorous World War II classic “Catch-22.” The two men were at a party given by a billionaire at his summer home. Vonnegut asked Heller: “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?” Heller answered: “I’ve got something he can never have.” In words the 1 percenters and their sycophants would never understand, he explained simply, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”