Rich Person Doesn't Know German, Can't Be Taken Seriously

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 27 2014 5:58 PM

Rich Person Doesn't Know German, Can't Be Taken Seriously

Hard not to feel a little schadenfreude over Tim Draper's malapropisms.

Photo by Max Morse/Getty Images

My colleague Matt Yglesias already put the wood to Tom Perkins, the venture capitalist who worried (in the letters column of the Wall Street Journal) that there were "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.' " Yglesias credited Perkins with proving you can get rich without being "very thoughtful, perceptive, or intelligent." But I'll give Perkins this much: He got the proportion of Jews in prewar Germany basically right. They made up about 0.75 percent of the population.

I cannot give the accuracy prize to Tim Draper, a venture capitalist contacted by Business Insider after Perkins' letter went viral. Draper:

On Tom Perkins, he is a brilliant man, and he is identifying schadenfreude, something that continues to be a thorn in humanity’s side. The bitter taste of envy brings us all down. I like to celebrate the wealth and success of great heroes like Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Larry Ellison.

OK, first off: Schadenfreude does not mean "envy." Freude means "joy," basically, and Schaden means "harm." Schadenfreude means the delight one takes from the suffering of another. Was Perkins talking about that? No. He wasn't. He was talking about the jealousy of "the Occupy movement" and its fellow travellers, like the people who hate Danielle Steel "despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades."

Perkins failed to mention that he was married to Steel between 1998 and 2002, or that this might have inspired/convinced him he had the talent to write his romance novel, but that's hardly the point. The people demanding higher taxes for the rich could be accused, maybe, of Wohlstandneid, or wealth envy. But that's not even what Draper's talking about. He sees a movement of people angry at the financial industry, and says they're actually jealous of people like Larry Page or Steve Jobs or Elon Musk—people who invent things. Occupy, et al. aren't really angry about that. They're angry at the people who move money around or package worthless securities and run away with the profits.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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