The co-founder of Home Depot has become the latest billionaire to compare populist economic appeals to Nazi Germany. Speaking to Politico’s Ben White and Maggie Haberman, Ken Langone complained that “if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”
The comments come after Tom Perkins, a venture capitalist, 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.’”
But on the whole, wealthy Americans believe that the political appeal of economic populism is subsiding. Other so-called one-percenters quoted by White and Haberman point to the falling electoral fortunes of the Tea Party’s populist appeals, the failed effort by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase taxes on the rich, and the growing opposition to tax reform as evidence that politicians’ focus on the nation’s growing income gap has failed to find an audience. One top executive even seemed grateful that Russian President Vladimir Putin has usurped “the rich” as America’s new-found enemy.
“We obviously see other things driving the news cycle,” a top industry executive said. “Ukraine keeps the focus off the evil 1 percent, so I guess we have Putin to thank for that. The improving economy helps as well.”
As for Langone, he has long bristled at any public critique of the poor. Last year, the businessman informed church leaders that Pope Francis’s comments about income inequality were alienating the rich. “I’ve told the cardinal, ‘Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country,’” he said.
Meanwhile, the nation’s growing gap between the rich and poor has become a full-blown crisis, with the top 1 percent of families experiencing a 278 percent increase in their real after-tax income between 1979 to 2007, while families in the middle 60 percent saw an increase of less than 40 percent.
Langone has apologized for his comments. “My remarks were intended to discourage pitting one group against another group in a society,” he said. “If my choice of words was inappropriate — and they well may have been that — I extend my profound apologies to anyone and everyone who I may have offended.”