- 2016.10.31 - National Press Club - Peter Thiel speaks at The National Press Club
Takeaway: I agree with some of the ideas he expressed, and I very much like that he's pushing the government to be more effective. On the other hand, I wasn't impressed with some of his arguments / presentation; I didn't feel like he had explored the argument-space (?) as much as he could have, and so there were times when he would dodge or not answer basic questions, which I thought looked bad (although many people may not notice). IMO the most impressive arguments are when someone takes an unusual position that you disagree with and turns out to have explored the area so well that they will already anticipate all of your objections, will explain your arguments in a way that you agree with, and then point out various assumptions that you hadn't paid attention to or facts you were unaware of that make your position not as strong as you initially thought. I feel like I've heard much-more-persuasive arguments when I was in the debate club. It reminded me of Elon Musk's product-unveils, where his focus seems to be on getting stuff done and out in the public view rather than forever-refining it. I've definitely had it happen to me where I'll put something out which I think sucks, just because I'm procrastinating about working on it and I just want it done with.
0:00 - 2:30 - Generic intro from the interviewer
3:30 - Baby boomers have less than a year's worth of savings.
4:00 - Health bills are 10x other countries
4:40 - Education costs are skyrocketing
5:40 - Government is wasting taxpayer money, incl. to fight wars.
6:40 - Both major candidates are imperfect. Donald's comments were unacceptable.
7:15 - People are voting for Trump because they see that the status quo government has failed.
7:50 - Loud voices have said Trump's
8:04 - "The Advocate" has said Thiel is not a gay man.
8:40 - Trump gets some big things right.
- Free trade has not worked well for all of America.
9:30 - The trade deficit shows things are going wrong. The US is importing more than $500 billion every year.
10:15 - Americans are voting for Trump because they're tired of war.
- He describes Iraq as being in a state of "chaos". A bit of an exaggeration...
10:40 - The Dems are more hawkish today than any period since Vietnam.
11:00 - Calling for a no-fly zone over Syria is more reckless than invading Iraq. Since most of the planes over Syria are Russian, it would risk a nuclear conflict. [This seems very far-fetched.]
12:00 - He talks about how denying painful realities are how bubbles are formed, and that baby boomers have been subject to bubbles over and over. Very...antagonistic.
12:30-13:10 - He talks about how the establishment wanted it to be an election between the Bush and Clinton dynasties. He uses the '90s stock bubble and the '00s real estate bubble to draw attention to how long the Bush/Clintons have been in power.
13:45 - Trump has questioned the core concept of American exceptionalism.
16:00 - Wrap-up and switch to Qs.
16:25 - Q:
A: I have a strong bias for outsider candidates. I don't like the more-polished candidates because it does seem like they're just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
17:45 - Q: Isn't there something ot be said for voting for someone who actually knows how to get things done?
A: We've been trying that for a while and it hasn't been working. They were asleep during the stock and housing bubbles. They've been making micro policy adjustments and letting massive bubbles inflate [NW: Doesn't seem totally fair to me, almost nobody saw those coming, including people in the private sector.]. Trump's argument that Hillary is experienced, but that it's the wrong experience, resonates with me a lot.
18:50 - Q: Has your support of Trump affected your professional relationships?
19:10 - Q: Are there people in SV in the closet about supporting Trump?
A: Yes, not a lot, but a small number.
19:40 - Q: What have you learned about SV's appetite for political difference?
A: It's more polarized than I realized. I didn't think it would be such a visceral reaction. It's suprising to me that it's beyond-the-pale to support Trump.
20:55 - Q: Have your companies suffered any blowback?
A: I don't think so. That would be even crazier. [NW: IDK, in war, anything goes.]
21:45 - Q: Do you think SV understands America? Why the disconnect?
A: SV has been extremely successful. And the people in SV want to tell the story that their personal success is linked to improvement for everyone in the country. But that's just often not true.
23:20 - Q: How do you think the disconnect between SV and the rest of the country affects the products that get created in SV?
A: [NW: He doesn't really answer the question; not from trying to dodge it, but just from going off-topic.] SV is very-much based in the world of bits. The rest of the country is based more in the world of atoms.
25:25 - Q: Was the timing of your donation related to the Access Hollywood tape?
A: No, I think the tape was in extremely poor taste. I didn't think as much about the donation as I should have. I didn't think money made much of a difference in this election. [NW: I'm getting a vibe from his answer that he did it to be provocative, didn't realize how controversial it would be, and doesn't want to admit it.]
26:50 - Q: Are you concerned about what Trump's behavior says to younger Americans? IE setting a bad precedent.
A: I think the sexual comments are being policed adequately [he seems to briefly allude to the Trump argument that 'that was years ago', which I never found convincing]. He says he's more concerned about behavior likely to lead to war, like behavior towards Russia. "I don't think Hillary has accused Trump of being overly-hostile to Putin." [NW: Hmm...he doesn't seem to see Russia as a threat. That seems odd to me, given that there's a lot of info on Wikipedia about all the shenanigans the Russian government has partaked in wrt their own constituents, their neighbors, etc.]
28:10 - Q: Are you concerned about Trump's temperament wrt the nuclear codes?
A: Hillary's policy is much more confrontational than Trump's.
28:40 - Q: What about Trump's behavior towards other countries, like North Korea?
A: I think NK is more of China's problem. I think China will keep them in line. [NW: IMO he doesn't address the central issue, which is that Trump HAS used provocative rhetoric towards other countries.]
29:15 - Q: How would you rank Trump's economic plan against Hillary's?
A: It rejects the bubble way of thinking. [NW: He seems to dodge the specifics of the question, ie he doesn't know the details of either plan.] Temperamentally, Trump's anti-regulation should help small businesses.
31:25 - Q: Do Trump's bankruptcies worry you?
A: I think he's been a successful businessman, I thin he's been a very successful real estate developer. [NW: ???] I think Trump's record is par for the course in the industry he was in. [NW: I'm not so sure about that.]
- I think people are subject to too much of the wrong type of scrutiny when running for office, and it's one of the reasons we don't have more talented people running for office.
33:13 - Q: You do believe the vetting process should be thorough, right?
A: We have a less-talented group of people running today than we did 40 years ago. It's not clear that someone like JFK would be electable today.
33:45 - Q: Has Trump given you private assurances about not rolling back LGBTQ rights?
A: I haven't talked to him about that topic, but I think Trump's campaigning has indicated that he'd be much more progressive than previous Republican candidates.
34:28 - Q: Do you support Trump's 'ban Muslims' proposal?
A: I think the media is taking Trump literally, whereas Trump's supporters are not necessarily relying on that. [NW: I'm not sure about that.] I would like an immigration policy like Canada and Australia.
36:15 - Q: Do you think you've set a dangerous precedent with the Gawker lawsuit?
A: I don't think so. Let's look at the facts of the case. [He goes into details.] I think calling their behavior journalism is an insult to journalists.
38:30 - Q: Do you think what happened to Gawker could happen to more-reasonable journalists?
A: I think rich people shouldn't do that, and if they try I think they won't succeed. We were very careful to pick a case where the issue was over privacy and not libel.
40:10 - Q: How'd you get connected with Hogan's lawyer, and why you did it secretly.
A: I got involved over a number of years.
- He brings up the point again about how Gawker was going after people they knew couldn't fight back.
- I did it secretly because I wanted the focus to be on the facts of the case and not have Gawker hijack the narrative.
- I don't like that we have these flash-mobs on the Internet that get targeted at very-specific individuals.
- Some of the people who encouraged me were other people in the media, because they knew that Gawker was going after journalists.
42:40 - Q: When did you set this in motion?
A: It was around when the lawyer got involved with Hogan, so ~4-5 years ago. Around 2011 a friend convinced me that if no one stood up to Gawker, they'd continue to get away with their behavior.
44:40 - Q: Trump has talked about changing the libel laws so he can sue journalists he doesn't like. What do you think about that?
A: I don't think the libel laws need to be changed.
45:50 - Q: The Hogan lawyer is now taking on other cases; he's becoming the go-to lawyer. What's your opinion on that?
A: I think what actually matters in litigation is the end-game. Personally I wouldn't bring many of these cases because I don't think they'll win.
47:30 - Q: What do you think are the problems with the news media? What would you do to fix them?
A: A lot of the business models that the media has are not working as well as they used to. I'm not sure how to fix that. The newspapers were incredibly powerful monopolies a few decades ago, and the Internet eroded that.
49:30 - Q: Do you think it's the responsibility of rich people to fund good journalism?
A: I wouldn't want to compete with Jeff Bezos, ever. I think he's the toughest person in the world to compete with right now. I think it's possible that journalism will become more nonprofit-oriented, but I'm not sure that's the best thing for the industry.
50:50 - Q: What do you think are the greatest threats to freedom today, and what do you think can increase people's individual freedoms?
A: The ideological answer is always "the government". I'd like our focus to be on bringing our country in-line with other developed countries on things like the prison system, healthcare, etc.
52:20 - Q: How does America fix the broken-government problems you brought up in your RNC speech?
A: My ideal answer would be a smaller government that does more with less.
- Libertarian thinking was super-super fringe in the '50s because back then people thought
55:39 - Q: What's your future in politics?
A: I think my future is going to be in the tech industry; that's what I enjoy, that's what I'm good at. I occasionally get involved in politics, but I don't want to make it a full-time thing.
- 2017.01.11 - NYT - Peter Thiel, Trump’s Tech Pal, Explains Himself
Talking about how the Billy Bush tape was not so shocking if you’ve worked on the Wall Street trading floor, Mr. Thiel says: “On the one hand, the tape was clearly offensive and inappropriate. At the same time, I worry there’s a part of Silicon Valley that is hyper-politically correct about sex. One of my friends has a theory that the rest of the country tolerates Silicon Valley because people there just don’t have that much sex. They’re not having that much fun.”
When I ask him if he can explain to Mr. Trump that climate change is not a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, he offers a Chinese box of an answer: “Does he really think that? If he really thinks that, how would you influence that? If he really thinks that and you could influence him, what would be the best way to do it?”
He recalls that he went through a lot of “meta” debates about Mr. Trump in Silicon Valley. “One of my good friends said, ‘Peter, do you realize how crazy this is, how everybody thinks this is crazy?’ I was like: ‘Well, why am I wrong? What’s substantively wrong with this?’ And it all got referred back to ‘Everybody thinks Trump’s really crazy.’ So it’s like there’s a shortcut, which is: ‘I don’t need to explain it. It’s good enough that everybody thinks something. If everybody thinks this is crazy, I don’t even have to explain to you why it’s crazy. You should just change your mind.’”
- NW: My impression is that the real answer is that this election was something of a civil war between different interest groups in the US, and by supporting Trump Thiel was making himself an enemy to the other side.
Over a four-hour dinner of duck and chocolate dessert — a surprisingly sybaritic meal for a man who admits he is prone to weird diets — Mr. Thiel shows, again and again, how he likes to “flip around” issues to see if conventional wisdom is wrong, a technique he calls Pyrrhonian skepticism.
“Maybe I do always have this background program running where I’m trying to think of, ‘O.K., what’s the opposite of what you’re saying?’ and then I’ll try that,” he says. “It works surprisingly often.” He has even wondered if his most famous investment, Facebook, contributes to herd mentality.
He says that at the tech meeting, Mr. Trump showed “a phenomenal understanding of people. He’s very charismatic, but it’s because he sort of knows exactly what to say to different people to put them at ease.”
I ask him if Mr. Trump and Mr. Musk are similar.
“I’m going to get in trouble, but they are, actually. They’re both grandmaster-level salespeople and these very much larger-than-life figures.”
He recalls a story from his and Mr. Musk’s PayPal days, when Mr. Musk joined the engineering team’s poker game and bet everything on every hand, admitting only afterward that it was his first time playing poker. Then there was the time they were driving in Mr. Musk’s McLaren F1 car, “the fastest car in the world.” It hit an embankment, achieved liftoff, made a 360-degree horizontal turn, crashed and was destroyed.
“It was a miracle neither of us were hurt,” Mr. Thiel says. “I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, which is not advisable. Elon’s first comment was, ‘Wow, Peter, that was really intense.’ And then it was: ‘You know, I had read all these stories about people who made money and bought sports cars and crashed them. But I knew it would never happen to me, so I didn’t get any insurance.’ And then we hitchhiked the rest of the way to the meeting.”
- 2017.01.11 - NYT - Confirm or Deny: Peter Thiel
Maureen Dowd: California should secede.
Peter Thiel: Confirm. I’d be fine with that. I think it would be good for California, good for the rest of the country. It would help Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.
We should create a GPS-style algorithm to tell employees what to do at any given moment, like Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, is doing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Deny. That’s always the place where everyone’s overpaid and superunhappy. That algorithm doesn’t seem like a formula for happiness.
As Jeff Bezos said of you in October, contrarians are usually wrong.
Zuckerberg did not have a great pitch.
Confirm. He was 19 years old. He was totally introverted, didn’t say much. You desperately need a good pitch when you have a bad company. When you have a great company, you don’t need a great pitch.
There’s no job you would take in the Trump administration.
Confirm. I want to stay involved in Silicon Valley and help Mr. Trump as I can without a full-time position.
You do weird diets.
Confirm — on Paleo diet.
You think the stock market is a giant bubble right now.
You’re addicted to online chess.
Confirm. I delete it and download it a few times a year. I have it right now.
- 2017.11 - Masters of Scale - Interview with Peter Thiel
- TODO: Summarize the advice in this.