Wealth

Silicon Valley investor Chamath Palihapitiya says billionaires should stop being so sensitive

Key Points
  • Billionaires should be grateful for their good fortune and stop being so sensitive to public criticism and name-calling by politicians, said tech billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya.
  • He made the comments as part of a heated billionaire-versus-billionaire debate with former hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman.
  • Cooperman, who supports billionaire Michael Bloomberg in the Democratic primary, said that the anti-wealth rhetoric by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren is destructive and unfair.
Chamath Palihapitiya
Heidi Gutman | CNBC

Billionaires should be grateful for their good fortune and stop being so sensitive to public criticism and name-calling by politicians, tech billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya said Wednesday.

In a heated billionaire-versus-billionaire debate with former hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, Palihapitiya said that being demonized or labeled "out of touch" is a small price to pay for having so much wealth at a time when so many Americans have been left out of the financial boom.

Cooperman, who supports billionaire Michael Bloomberg in the Democratic primary, said that the anti-wealth rhetoric by two other candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is destructive and unfair.

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Watch CNBC's full interview with venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya

"My main hang up has been the constant attacking of wealthy people, the villainizing of the billionaire class," he said on CNBC. "I don't get it."

Palihapitiya responded that billionaires need to better understand the perspective of the millions of Americans who have not seen their wealth soar from the stock market or other investments.

"I'm in the same fortunate position you're in," he told Cooperman. "But at the end of the day, if the worst thing that happens is that people name-call us a little bit, and people call us billionaires and detached..that's not the worst thing in the world.

Palihapitiya – who made his first fortune as an early executive at Facebook and now invests in other companies-- also defended Sanders against Cooperman's claim that the Vermont senator is a communist who supported Fidel Castro.

"What do you say to the 50 million-plus people who believe that if you read the policies and take the label of socialism aside," Palihapitiya said. "Sanders really looks more like a Social Democrat that's akin to a politician in the Nordic countries than he does to a Fidel Castro 2.0."

Cooperman said, "That's not how Bernie Sanders sounds to me."

Cooperman became the face of aggrieved billionaires last year when he told CNBC Warren was "trying to demonize wealthy people because there are more poor people than wealthy people" and that he "gave away more money in the year than she has in her whole F—lifetime."

Warren, who advocates a wealth tax, criticized Cooperman and other billionaires in a campaign ad, saying "You built a great fortune..good for you. But you built it at least in part using workers that all of us paid to help educate. "