Thiel made clear his contempt for American universities which, like governments, he believes, cost more than they’re worth and hinder what really matters in life, namely starting tech companies.
Mr. Weisberg strikes on something that’s always becoming more and more apparent to me: the parasitic nature of the Silicon Valley venture capital system and its promotion of arrested development and irresponsibility. He sneers too hard for his own good - supporters of the SV model will conclude he’s jealous or the kind of asshole who pushed me into the lockers in high school. That’s a shame, because he hits on some important points that people who write software and who dream (as I sometimes do) about that sweet, sweet Facebook money should think about.
Investors like Peter Thiel and Paul Graham valorize bad behavior, and they’ve tended a flock of want-to-be-a-millionaire young guns who buy in to their Rise of the Ubermensch mythology. How else to explain the fact that Thiel is still well-respected? This statement for the CATO Institute should have made him a laughingstock. The financial crisis was caused by government over-insurance against moral hazard? Giving women the right to vote destroys political freedom? This is the voice of a man who has willfully blinded himself to reality, despite a world class education. The voice of a man to whom it has never occurred that he might have been born a “welfare beneficiary” rather than raised in a city with a median household income of more than $100,000. The voice of a man who thinks we should get rid of the FDA.
I’m not going to pretend I didn’t fall for some of this for a while. The primacy of the individual is an attractive idea, especially to young people. And it’s in the air out here: start a web site, change the world, prove you’re the best! I was a big fan of Paul Graham until I realized that he was basically promoting digital sharecropping, using young people’s naive belief that they’re the exception to all the rules to convince them it’s all right to spend two years eating ramen if it gives you the off-chance to become a millionaire. What’s two years when you’re twenty? Guess what? It’s still two years. Nowadays Mr. Graham is espousing the benefits of “unplugging” and living a good life, but he continues to try and produce more addictive, no-business-plan, Potemkin-companies to sell up the pyramid.
I wonder if this mercenary perception - that the rich of today are necessarily rich because they deserve to be - is a defense against cognitive dissonance, against the knowledge you may not have earned all your good fortune. Thiel is fond of Vince Lombardi’s famous quip, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” Is that the sort of voice you want pushing your society into the future? The Valley seems to think so. Even the heads of companies that produce real value for American business are remarkably insecure, viperish, and puerile. Larry Ellison’s samurai get-up, Mark Hurd’s sexy parties, and Paul Allen’s ego-stroking stage time with Usher are only some famous examples.
I wonder, too, if this attitude is one reason there are no unions for software developers. There are hardly any unions for engineers, either. For some reason, we as a profession don’t see ourselves as “workers” who can be exploited the same way an autoworker or a stevedore can, though stories of contractor-servitude abound. Maybe too many of us buy into the Thiel ideology.
I don’t mean to include in the above criticism companies that have grown from venture funding to produce sustainable, innovative businesses that make profits, employ people, and work like businesses should. Apple, HP (well, the pre-Hurd/Fiorina HP), and Tesla Motors all got their start by getting investors early. The current crop of VCs and “angel investors” seem extractionary to me - instead of selling doo-dads to people with the money to afford them, they’re selling our attention to other companies to help them fleece us a little more. (I’m aware of the irony of using Tumblr to criticize the modern web model. We live our lives through small hypocrisies.)