Asked for an idea that could “change the world” by FORTUNE’s Adam Lashinsky, billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins told an audience at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Thursday that Americans shouldn’t be able to vote unless they pay taxes and that the wealthy should have more votes.
“The Tom Perkins system is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes,” Perkins said. “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?” Watch the full interview here.
The audience laughed at the idea, though CNN Money notes that the billionaire did not indicate that he was joking. Afterwards, he suggested that he was being purposely controversial, “I intended to be outrageous, and it was,” he said, adding that the comments “make you more angry than my letter to the Wall Street Journal.”
Last month, Perkins used a Holocaust analogy to describe his concerns for the safety of the top 1 percent of income earners, writing, “I would call attention to the parallels of Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’”
The nation’s growing gap between the rich and poor has become a full-blown crisis, with the top 1 percent of families experienced a 278 percent increase in their real after-tax income from 1979 to 2007, while families in the middle 60 percent saw an increase of less than 40 percent. A large body of research suggests that high inequality leads to lower levels of representative democracy and a higher probability of revolution, as poorer citizens become convinced that the government is only serving and representing the interests of the rich.
Wealthy people’s disproportionate impact on democracy also has the effect of perpetuating income inequality. During the 2012 elections, “the top 0.01 percent of campaign donors — one percent of the one percent — contributed more than 40 percent of all the money spent in the 2012 elections,” compared to 15 percent in 1980. Harvard economics professor Edward L. Glaeser argues that as the rich become richer and secure more political influence, they support policies that make them wealthier at the expense of everyone else. “If the rich can influence political outcomes through lobbying activities or membership in special interest groups, then more inequality could lead to less redistribution rather than more,” he explained in a 2006 paper.
This post has been updated to reflect that FORTUNE’s Adam Lashinsky conducted the Perkins interview.