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  • An Interview with Peter Thiel

    Posted by David Foster on February 11th, 2012 (All posts by )

    …conducted by Francis Fukuyama, about America’s current trajectory. Thiel co-founded PayPal and is a venture capitalist; he was an early investor in Facebook. In 2010 he created a fellowship with the mission of awarding $100,000 each to 20 people under 20 years old in order to spur them to quit college and create their own ventures. Fukuyama is a political scientist and writer best known for his book The End of History.

    Link to the interview

    I think this point made by Thiel is particularly worthy of note:

    One regulatory perspective is that environmentalism has played a much greater role than people think. It induced a deep skepticism about anything involving the manipulation of nature or material objects in the real world. The response to environmentalism was to prohibit scientists from experimenting with stuff and only allow them to do so with bits. So computer science and finance were legal, and what they have in common is that they involve the manipulation of bits rather than stuff. They both did well in those forty years, but all the other engineering disciplines were stymied. Electric engineering, civil engineering, aeronautical, nuclear, petroleum—these were all held back, and attracted fewer talented students at university as the years went on. When people wonder why all the rocket scientists went to work on Wall Street, well, they were no longer able to build rockets. It’s some combination of an ossified, Weberian bureaucracy and the increasingly hostile regulation of technology. That’s very different from the 1950s and 1960s. There’s a powerful libertarian argument that government used to be far less intrusive, but found targeted ways to advance science and technology.

    Read the whole thing.

    Link via Isegoria

     

    16 Responses to “An Interview with Peter Thiel”

    1. Bill Brandt Says:

      David – since no one has yet commented on this thoughtful post and I an due for a dinner in a few minutes – I will resume in a few hours but wanted to mention that I remember reading about Peter in Forbes some years ago – rather amazing individual – and I do believe govt bureaucracy tends to discourage innovation.

      I think of how many aviation ideas came from California and today, just building a factory here, is a Herculean effort of getting though so many bureaucratic hoops. Am drawn to a famous statement Sean Connery made some years ago, when describing a very difficult director and a mediocre screenplay – he said it was like ‘Trying to roll #$% up hill” (the decorum of this Blog compels me to let the reader’s imagine fill in the missing noun ;-) )

      And the schools tend to produce technocrats – people adept at managing things – making small changes but very little revolutionary change.

      Was rather surprised to see just a blurb on TV the other night – Philipe Kahn – the man behind really cheap compilers in the 80s for PCs – from Scotts Valley (between San Jose and Santa Cruz) – anyway there is a Philipe Kahn behind something interesting today and I am curious if it is the same one.

    2. David Foster Says:

      California…here’s a story about why it took two years to open an ice cream parlor in San Francisco.

    3. Bill Brandt Says:

      David – and think – after paying rent for 2 years with no income , lawyers, et how much ice cream does she have to sell just to get above water?

      I am wondering why Chevron – Standard Oil of CA – moved its headquarters from San Francisco – which was there since its founding – to down he road a bit in San Ramon – oput of SF City and County.

    4. Bill Brandt Says:

      David – after reading this I believe – I have to read it a few times. He seems to be a true futurist, one able to make dispassionate observations about the state of our society and it’s reasons for its state.

      Such people are very rare.

      My initial thoughts – while is premise about income disparity is probably true – is he saying that the stagnation of technological innovation the reason?

      I believe he is – but certainly can stand to be corrected. And his observation on the time interval to finish the Golden Gate Bridge – vs a small ancillary road taking twice as long – certainly is true. These days – in this state – I am surprised that they can do it in 6 years.

      Think of the time it took for so many of our engineering landmarks – Empire State Bldg, Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam – think of the time it took to make them 80 years ago and imagine trying to do that today.

      The answers would be laughable.

      I have to say – the stupid voters of CA passed a bond for over $1 Billion to being a high speed rail line up the state – now I say stupid because the state is awash in red with the politicians’ only recourse to raise taxes more – driving still more people & companies out – but the point is someone said that of this billion, not one dollar will go to actual building but all to environmental studies, permits, law firm fees….

      That is why this thing won’t be built in 5 years.

      I’ll have to reread the interview tomorrow.

    5. Robert Schwartz Says:

      When the last lawyer is strangled with the entrails of the last environmentalist.

    6. renminbi Says:

      Great interview,thanks for the link.

      He,rightly,sees that Gov’t created this mess,but then thinks the Gov’t can do anything to get us out. It can’t,. even if it wanted to. I has a Merden touch in almost everything it touches or does. This especially applies to science and technology. Could the global warming scam have gotten off the ground without the lavish gov’t funding encouraging it? No one getting the grants was going to call BS on the science and end his own career. Of course, anyone who respected Scientific Method and was paying attention, could see what was going on,but what ended it was that someone had a conscience and leaked the e-mails. But this scam has probably cost $trillion already.
      The default setting for most people is stupid,lazy and greedy.Why should they be expected to elect people who are wise,intelligent and honest? Why should the elected officials then,properly supervise the everyone else in the gov’t? They don’t gain thereby,do they? We have a governance problem that is unfixable under present arrangements,and this is true for the whole democratic (possible exception-Switzerland) world.
      A friend, who teaches history,complains that his student are stupid. I’ll bet they’re not stupid if someone gives them the wrong change at the Bodega. People will abandon their default settings when it is to their immediate benefit. I’d bet that my friend’s students who voted for a Dacia (that’s even worse than a Yugo) as president would never drive one.

      Ceausescu was captured after the Dacia he carjacked broke down within 5 miles.

    7. David Foster Says:

      “Ceausescu was captured after the Dacia he carjacked broke down within 5 miles”

      Excellent poetic justice!

      The idea that government officials are going to be especially good and wise people is common among “progressives” and even among old-line liberal….it is if they see government as an idealized parent-figure.

    8. Anonymous Says:

      David, there were early indicators of the phenomenon decades ago: David Halberstam’s The Reckoning tells the story of US versus Japan most attractive industries for the Best and the Brightest

      In the late 50s, 60s and early 70s, the Best and the Brightest in the US were attracted to aerospace and the Space Race; in contrast, the Best and Brightest in Japan were attracted to the auto industry. Japan was lacking a meaningful aerospace industry and a Soviet foe. For the Best and the Brightest at that time, working in Detroit was considered “backwater” employment.

      Over decades, the effects were felt and are still felt today

      Suspect we are going to feel the effects decades from now of Wall Street sucking great talent rather than the alternative employers that make or design stuff.

      For young people today, being an environmental or labor expert who thinks up ways to sue Chevron, GE, Apple is a celebrity.

      Reminds Me: “Any jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a good carpenter to build one.”

      Are we developing a nation of jack asses?

    9. SPKorn Says:

      Oops…not intended to be anonymous:

      David, there were early indicators of the phenomenon decades ago: David Halberstam’s The Reckoning tells the story of US versus Japan most attractive industries for the Best and the Brightest

      In the late 50s, 60s and early 70s, the Best and the Brightest in the US were attracted to aerospace and the Space Race; in contrast, the Best and Brightest in Japan were attracted to the auto industry. Japan was lacking a meaningful aerospace industry and a Soviet foe. For the Best and the Brightest at that time, working in Detroit was considered “backwater” employment.

      Over decades, the effects were felt and are still felt today

      Suspect we are going to feel the effects decades from now of Wall Street sucking great talent rather than the alternative employers that make or design stuff.

      For young people today, being an environmental or labor expert who thinks up ways to sue Chevron, GE, Apple is a celebrity.

      Reminds Me: “Any jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a good carpenter to build one.”

      Are we developing a nation of jack asses?

    10. David Foster Says:

      Steve…in addition to the influence on employee recruitment, the fashionableness/unfashionableness of various industries of course has a major impact on the degree to which public policy does or does not get in their way and on the attraction of capital.

    11. Bill Brandt Says:

      Lots of good comments here!

      Ceausescu was captured after the Dacia he carjacked broke down within 5 miles

      I too find that ironic – the crappy car that communism built in Romania ended up being the cause of his capture.

      Didn’t someone make a movie revolving around this Dacia?

      On Japan and the best and the brightest – I would like to propose the idea that the Japanese thought enough of Edwards Deming -a US prophet not accepted in his own country – that they took his ideas it to heart – that factory production is a continuous process of quality self improvement – so much so that every year the award a Deming prize to a company

      Regarding government and technology everyone points to the space race – where the govt poured billions of dollars to the aerospace companies to produce the desired result –

      But for a take on the economics of rocket development I’d recommend this article from Smithsonian Air & Space on Elon Musk – to me a Howard Hughes like character who NASA is depending on -his company SpaceX – is developing a rocket in a former 747 sub-assembly plant in Hawthorne CA – anyway if you can stay through the article Musk delves into the economics of rocket development and the economic reasons for the cost — and why he finds it better to reinvent components rather than buy “off the shelf” components from govt subsidized companies. And why he won’t patent any of his developments…

      And I will reread the Thiel interview this evening…

    12. David Foster Says:

      SK asks “Are we developing a nation of jack asses?”

      The whole process of spending 16 to 20 years of seat time in pursuit of credentials does tend to develop a personality which is more focused on analysis, critique, and deconstruction…tearing down, or kicking down if you will…rather than action and creation.

      Eric Hoffer observed that pioneers are not generally the ones who are the most successful and comfortable in a society. Our runaway credentialism, though, increasingly tends to reserve positions of power and influence to those who *do* come from comfortable and successful backgrounds, and for that very reason often tend to be risk-adverse.

    13. David Foster Says:

      Via Instapundit, I see that Peter Thiel made the Media Matters enemies list.

    14. Bill Brandt Says:

      @David – that’s a good thing, isn’t it? ;-)

    15. David Foster Says:

      Bill….”The insults of an enemy are a tribute to the brave”

      (Old Afghan saying, at least according to Harry Flashman, whose creator was usually careful with his research)

    16. Bill Brandt Says:

      David – when I am presented with candidates of which I know next to nothing – the way I decide who to vote for is to see who is for them … and who is against them…