Peter Thiel


Peter Thiel is an internet billionaire and  libertarian icon.  He is known for, among other things, blaming the welfare state on the 19th Amendment and for hoping to use the internet to create virtual currencies free from banking and government cabals:

Thiel, who is openly gay, wants to flee the mob, not rally it through gold-hoarding or flag-waving. Having given up hope for American democracy, he writes that he has decided to focus “my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom.” Both his entrepreneurship and his philanthropy have been animated by techno-utopianism. In founding PayPal, which made his first fortune when he sold it to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002, Thiel sought to create a global currency beyond the reach of taxation or central bank policy. He likewise sees Facebook as a way to form voluntary supra-national communities.

He is also a secessionist, hoping first to secede from dry land, and then from the Earth itself:

Offline, Thiel is the lead backer of Seasteading, a movement to create law-free floating communes based on voluntary association. … Thiel is also an investor in space exploration, with the avowed aim of creating new political structures even farther offshore. That could take some time, but Thiel—who loves robots and science fiction—has a plan for that, too. He has given millions to the Methuselah Foundation, which does research into life-extension based on the premise that humans can live to be 1,000 years old. At PayPal, he proposed making cryogenic storage an employee perk.

But his latest scheme, which Slate* calls “nasty” and “his worst yet” actually has real world merit:

The Thiel Fellowship will pay would-be entrepreneurs under 20 $100,000 in cash to drop out of school. In announcing the program, 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 …. His scholarships are meant as an escape hatch from these insufficiently capitalist institutions of higher learning.

Slate proceeds with a lot of hand wringing about the squelching of intellectual development in favor of the pursuit of filthy lucre, but Thiel may actually be more right than he knows: for as some have argued, it may turn out that both intellectual development and the pursuit of filthy lucre are best pursued without the millstone of a college degree (and the debts, both monetary and intellectual, that come with it). 

* The funniest line of the whole Slate piece is this one, apparently written in utter earnestness: “It should be noted that Thiel has also supported some genuinely good and useful causes, like the Committee to Protect Journalists.”

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