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Peter Thiel

25/01/2017

So, there’s a lot of talk about Peter Thiel gaining New Zealand citizenship five years ago. (For those who haven’t caught up on the news, it has only been revealed today because a company owned by Thiel bought property last year in Wanaka deemed “sensitive” by the Overseas Investment Office.) Thiel* is a billionaire tech entrepreneur, the founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. He is a seriously smart investor and someone Tyler Cowen referred to as a “public intellectual” in an interview with the tech billionaire back in 2015. If you read Thiel’s book “Zero to One” then you might understand what Cowen was getting at. The book is an excellent primer on entrepreneurship from how good salesmen make it look easy to how you should best advertise your product and more. It is also a detailed analysis of the state of the world and the United States. Thiel laments the decline of the American political system and innovation as he sees it. He once scathingly remarked of recent technological advances that “we were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters”. Thiel looks to an earlier era of great scientific advances (man landing on the moon) which took place quickly and wonders why those things aren’t happening now. Thiel is impatient and wants progress in the big things (not just the trivial ones such as, say, the creation of a certain social medium). In “Zero to One” he divides up people and countries into four spaces in a rubric; definite pessimists who expect and plan for the worst, indefinite pessimists who expect the worst but do not plan to avoid it, indefinite optimists who expect a better world but do not plan towards making it happen, and definite optimists who expect the world to get better and work towards making it happen. So, I wonder, in which category does Thiel put New Zealand and New Zealanders?

PS: Here’s a good rundown on the Thiel Optimist/Pessimist rubric.

PPS: Here’s Tyler Cowen’s interview with Peter Thiel. Cowen asked Thiel whether New Zealand was underrated to which Thiel replied that smaller countries such as New Zealand were underrated because they had the ability to adapt. I’ve extracted that exchange below:

TYLER COWEN: A follow-up on that, Peter. New Zealand arguably is the most democratic country in the world, I would say, or very close to the most democratic. Given that, New Zealand, overrated or underrated?

PETER THIEL: Again, I think it’s more like a representative democracy or republic.

TYLER COWEN: There’s no constitution. There’s close to only one branch of government, very little federalism.

PETER THIEL: I think a lot of these smaller countries are somewhat underrated generally because you have an adaptability, an ability to change things that can move a lot faster. Again, I don’t think it’s the form of government that matters so much. I think it’s often the culture . . .

*Thiel also endorsed Donald Trump for president last year and has been on his transition team.

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