Tom Perkins made himself a symbol of Silicon Valley tone-deafness earlier this year. He infamously declared the Bay Area's resistance to one percenter techies was akin to the Nazi's war on Jews. But he seems to have come around to the tech detractors' point of view.
The New Yorker's Nathan Heller interviewed the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers co-founder for a piece exploring why so many San Franciscans hate the tech industry. During the interview, Perkins became downright nostalgic for what the city once was.
Perkins considers Ron Conway a friend, and admires the pro-business policies that Conway and Sf.Citi have pushed through [in San Francisco]. He also admires the country of Australia, which he believes approaches the free-wheeling, entrepreneurial bliss of Northern California at the time he arrived, in 1957. "I was twenty-two, twenty-three," he explained. "I lived in Sausalito, which back then had a functioning whorehouse—one of the last ones in the Bay Area. It was a loose town where anything went, and I loved it. San Francisco was that way. It was artistic, outrageous. The gays had a lot to do with that." Perkins had brought his forehead to rest on his fingertips and closed his eyes, smiling. "I knew writers and artists. North Beach. The Beats. The jazz. It's still a great city, but I think it was better then."
Today's protesters aren't longing for days they could stagger into a bargain brothel after partying with the Beats, but the sentiment is largely the same. Perkins' half-baked letter to the Wall Street Journal lambasted those in San Francisco outraged over "the rising real-estate prices which these 'techno geeks' can pay." Now Perkins and The Outraged are on the same page, complaining that tech and surging rents are pushing out artists, musicians, and, yes, sex workers.
Perkins' "evolution" on the Bay Area's economic strife happened in less than six months. But he already fears it might be too late for San Francisco's free-wheeling, party-positive artistic spirit.
I asked Perkins whether he saw a way to preserve communities of writers and artists in town. He sighed and thought for several long moments. "I don't see how," he said at last.