Peter Thiel, noticed today because Paul Krugman and someone else kind of make fun of him.
On a slightly more elevated note, Matt Yglesias has some fun with a prominent libertarian, Peter Thiel, who looks at the contrast between rapid progress in information technology and less rapid progress in “stuff” and blames .. the government.
In a way, I’m reluctant to make too much fun of Thiel because at least he points to something that I notice a lot. If you look at what futurists were predicting 40 or 45 years ago, they somewhat underpredicted progress in IT (except for the artificial intelligence thing), but wildly overpredicted progress in dealing with the material world. Weren’t we supposed to have underwater cities, commercial space flight, and flying cars by now?
But blaming the government is silly …
Thiel, who has been noted as another of the Silicon Valley’s Live Forever guys, judged very wise by people who measure progress and achievement by the size of the billfold.
By that standard, Peter Thiel waxes about every scientist who ever lived:
Peter Thiel, sitting directly next to me, is one of the most successful investors that Silicon Valley has ever known. He was an early ‑‑ he was the first investor in Facebook. He was a founder and CEO of PayPal. He helped found Palantir, which has been a tremendous success. He has a hedge fund, Clarium Capital; an early stage venture, no not early stage, yes, early stage venture capital fund, Founder’s Fund; and many, many other things that I think we will have an opportunity to discuss this evening.
Let’s see. PayPal — buy stuff and send money on the Internet, except if your WikiLeaks or someone else it doesn’t like. Facebook — hmmm, rip off everyone but the primary investors in IPO. Palantir — computer security, corporate spying and embarrassment.
And then there’s Google’s Eric Schmidt, also odious but for different reasons.
Here Schmidt attributes all the freedom that hasn’t quite happened in the Middle East yet to social media, more precisely the Internet, which you hear about once or twice a day, if not more:
PETER THIEL: When you talk about the Arab spring, you can say that it’s evidence of Google and Twitter ‑‑
ERIC SCHMIDT: I didn’t say that.
PETER THIEL: ‑‑ liberating the world through information. But, the actual facts on the ground are that food prices rose by 30 to 50 percent in the previous year and you basically had people who had become ‑‑ you had desperate people who had become more hungry than scared, who revolted. Then Eric goes around and says, let them eat iPhones, or maybe not ‑‑ that’s not precisely what he would say.
ERIC SCHMIDT: Let’s just say that everything he just said is not actually true. Let’s start with the food revolution. The issues of food in the globe are all related to mismanagement by governments. Many, many people have looked at this. And even without synthetic foods and the other things that are being developed, we can feed everybody. It’s just bad policies. And that can be fixed with better governments, more representative governments, so forth and so on.
With respect to the Arab Spring, and having been there and spent quite a bit time talking to the people, these people were very courageous and they used the tools available to them to topple these sort of bad regimes that weren’t giving them what they wanted. Sure, food prices went up, but there was a long history of repression. If you go back, each of these groups had a couple of years earlier tried and had been squelched.
The fact of the matter is that the dictators who were overthrown had a failure to regulate the Internet. They regulated everything else, the telephone, the television and so forth.
ADAM LASHINSKY: So, on the margin, Twitter and Facebook and other social media devices contributed to greater freedom …