Venture capital billionaire Tom Perkins may be new to the trolling game, but he made an absolutely spectacular debut when he wrote to the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back warning that resentment toward the super-rich in American society reminded him a lot of the Nazi campaign against the Jews. Then last weekend, he followed that bit of wisdom by proposing that the wealthy ought to get more votes than the unwashed masses, since they pay more in taxes. "The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," he said in a speech. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?"
That, you're probably saying, is abominable. Why not just let the richest one person choose the president? He's got the most money, so he's obviously the wisest and has the greatest interest in government, right? Although Perkins might not be too pleased with that outcome, since the richest person in America is Bill Gates, who seems pretty liberal, what with his efforts to improve global health and fight poverty rather than letting the sick and destitute contemplate their well-deserved fate while they gaze up in admiration at their betters.
Okay, so Tom Perkins is kind of a lunatic. But is he a representative lunatic? Do his peers up in the penthouse suite and down at the yacht club think the same things he does, or is he an outlier?
This is actually a difficult question to answer, because while most good surveys ask about people's income, their scales usually stop at a pretty modest level. Often the final option is "$100,00 per year or more," which doesn't allow you to separate the wealthy from the upper-middle-class. Nevertheless, the higher you go up the income scale, the more Republican people tend to be. Take, for instance, the 2012 election results:
Even if those with incomes over $100,000 tilt Republican, there are still plenty of Democrats there. But that's not really the people Perkins is talking about. The people who arouse his concern are those earning seven, eight, or nine figures a year, and being Republican is only the start (I'm sure there are plenty of Republicans who think Perkins takes his advocacy for the upmarket downtrodden quite a ways too far). I've only come across one study that attempted to assess these people's opinions quantitatively. It's this one from Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels, and Jason Seawright. The sample of ultra-wealthy people they managed to assemble is pretty small, so we shouldn't make too many sweeping judgments from it, but the differences with the general public they found are pretty striking:
The days of noblesse oblige are obviously long gone. Fortunately for these folks, it isn't really necessary for them to get votes proportional to their net worth; the government already works hard for them. Even in the administration of that socialist Barack Obama, the Dow has hit record levels and the wealth of the wealthiest has gone nowhere but up. So things are working out pretty well. Which is why, I'm guessing, most of them would like Tom Perkins to keep his mouth shut. Sure, there may be a few who actually agree with him that the wealthy deserve more votes. But why admit that in public? After all, they've got a good thing going.
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