Tom Perkins’ faux pas

There’s a bit of civic tension in San Francisco these days, pitting mostly young, relatively rich employees of tech companies against the older residents. Rents and housing prices are skyrocketing, forcing some of the previous residents to flee. The most visible results of this upheaval are the tech company buses that roam the streets, picking up and dropping off techies. Lately there have been protests of the buses, including threats of violence. A NY Times report:

Demonstrators regularly block the shuttles. Last week, a group of activists stalked a Google engineer at his East Bay house, urging the masses to “Fight evil. Join the revolution.” A prominent venture capitalist struck back, comparing the tech elite with persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany.

Nazi Germany?? This stems from what Tom Perkins, the “prominent venture capitalist,”  wrote to the Wall Street Journal:

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.”

From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. …

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

After being condemned by the ADL, Mr. Perkins apologized for his gaffe. In particular, Abe Foxman complained that “He discredits himself and his argument by leaping to the absurd conclusion that class differences in America are stirring up sentiments similar to the virulent anti-Semitism that led to the deaths of six million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust. … This is historical trivialization of the worst kind imaginable.”

It would seem that Foxman was more than usually outraged by Perkins analogizing the class warfare going on in San Francisco with the hostility toward Jews in 1930s Germany. That’s because, in the official story, the fact that Jews were an elite in 1930s Germany had nothing to do with the hostility directed against them. The official pitch is that anti-Semitism is nothing more than a psychiatric condition, completely unrelated to Jewish behavior.

But Mr. Perkins is quite right to make the analogy. From Chapter 5 of A People that Shall Dwell Alone (p. 147):

[Albert] Lindemann (1991, 10) notes that “[i]n the long history of the Jews, the rise of the Jews in the nineteenth century has few parallels in terms of the rapid transformation of the condition of the Jews—in absolute and relative numbers, wealth, in fame, in power, and in influence.” The extraordinary rise of Jews in Germany in the period from 1870 to 1933 following emancipation was a general phenomenon. Jews were concentrated in urban areas and in particular occupations. In general, they were vastly overrepresented in areas requiring a high level of education (business, professions, public service) and underrepresented in agriculture and domestic service—a pattern that Gordon (1984) finds had existed since the Middle Ages. In 1871, when the Jews became fully emancipated in Germany, 60 percent were already in the middle‑ and upper‑income brackets ([David] Sorkin 1987, 110).

[Werner  E.] Mosse (1987, 204) estimates that despite representing less than 1 percent of the population, Jews controlled 20 percent of the commercial activity in Germany in the from 1819 to 1935, as indicated by percentages of Jews among the economic elite. Moreover, Jewish involvement in the largest companies was even more substantial than this figure might indicate. For example, Mosse (1987, 273‑274) finds that in 1907 Jews had a dominant position in 33 of the 100 largest companies and in 9 of the 13 companies with share capital over 100 million marks. Jews occupied a similar position through the Weimar period (pp. 357‑358). In some areas where Jews were concentrated, the overrepresentation of Jews was far higher. Thus, in the capital of Berlin, Jews accounted for nearly 45 percent of the official government Kommerzienrat awards given to outstanding businessmen, and in Prussia in 1911 44 percent of the 25 richest millionaires were Jews, as were 27.5 percent of the 200 richest millionaires and 23.7 percent of the 800 richest. In Berlin, as in the Hesse‑Nassau area, 12 of the 20 wealthiest taxpayers were Jews.

In the period from 1928 to 1932, Jews controlled 25 percent of retail sales and had a dominant position in certain areas, such as metal businesses, textiles and clothing, grain trade, and department stores [Sarah Ann] Gordon 1984). Jews also had a prominent position in private banking, so that, for example, in Berlin in 1923, there were 150 Jewish banks and 11 non-Jewish banks. And Jews were also prominently involved in the stock market, the insurance industry, and economic consulting firms. In 1923 Jews occupied 24 percent of the supervisory positions in joint‑stock companies. Gordon (1984) also shows that Jews were vastly overrepresented in the legal and judicial system, among university faculty, and as physicians.

See also Yuri Slezkine’s point in his The Jewish Century (Princeton, 2004; see here, p. 73) that Jews were overrepresented in Germany’s economic elite by a factor of 33.

In fact, Jews were an elite one percent in pre-WWII Germany and, as Slezkine notes, had a similar profile throughout Eastern Europe at the time; there can be little doubt that this elite status was part of the context of anti-Semitism throughout the area, along with other volatile  issues, such as Jewish opposition to national cultures throughout the area, also documented by Slezkine.

It’s a familiar pattern, also apparent  elsewhere in the West, especially in the U.S.

And that’s the real reason why Foxman wants to squelch anyone who dares to allude to Jews as an elite with economic power all out of proportion to its representation in the population. (Or political power—paradigmatically, the Israel Lobby.)

So the analogy holds. Just  another example of obvious, well-attested facts that we are not supposed to notice.

Gordon, S. (1984). Hitler, Germans, and the “Jewish Question.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Lindemann, A. S. (1991). The Jew Accused: Three Anti-Semitic Affairs (Dreyfus, Beilis, Frank) 1894–1915. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mosse, W. E. (1987). Jews in the German, Economy: The German-Jewish Economic Élite 1820–1935. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Sorkin, D. (1987). The Transformation of German Jewry, 1780–1840.New York: OxfordUniversity Press.

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