My conversation with Peter Thiel

by on April 2, 2015 at 10:11 am in Economics, Education, History, Law, Medicine, Philosophy, Political Science, Religion, Science, Television, The Arts, Web/Tech | Permalink

The YouTube version is here, the podcast version is here.

I was very happy with how it turned out, as I deliberately set out not to copy the content of any of Peter’s other dialogues.  You can learn how he thinks we will leave the “great stagnation,” whether the AI hype is justified, how he would boil his thought down to the smallest number of dimensions, whether NYC is over- or underrated, why globalization is likely to decline and what that means for different regions, the parts of the Bible which have influenced him most, “the Straussian Jesus,” to what age he thinks he will live, why Japan is special, how his German background matters, his favorite opening chess move, how and why company names matter, and even his favorite TV show, which he calls “schlocky.”

And much, much more, with commentary and questions from me throughout.  A transcript is being prepared as well.

1 ant1900 April 2, 2015 at 10:24 am

Hope you do many more of these. Jeff Bezos and Steven Pinker would be at the top of my wishlist. What about Cliff Asness or Bill Ackman? Is Robin Hanson too unknown? This bloggingheads is one of my favorite interviews: http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2018.

2 Sam April 2, 2015 at 4:42 pm

This Tyler conversation with Peter Singer is one of my favourites, as well.
http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2022

3 Hisham April 7, 2015 at 7:18 pm

You can find a Cliff Asness podcast on Masters in Business podcast with Barry Ritholtz

4 Daniel April 2, 2015 at 10:54 am

Charlie Munger is the perfect candidate for such an interview.
would be truly amazing to see.

5 anon April 7, 2015 at 6:19 pm

+1

6 Tom Jackson April 2, 2015 at 10:57 am

How about an interview with Neal Stephenson?

7 AC April 2, 2015 at 11:13 am

I’d be very interested in this. Stephensons novels have a great deal of content hinting at an interesting contrarian intellectual framework that he’s never fully articulated, though The Diamond Age comes close.

8 Brian Timoney April 2, 2015 at 11:48 pm

Stephenson would be a great choice–money, value. and systems of exchange pop up in many of his novels. In person he handles the awkward Author Talk in Indie Bookstore better than expected.

9 Anon. April 2, 2015 at 1:39 pm

He’s got a book coming out soon, too. I bet his PR people wouldn’t mind whoring him out for a bit of exposure.

10 asdfG April 2, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Finally! The man has every right to dick around with live action video games and group projects if he wants, but as a fan I’d rather he stick to his knitting.

11 Gary Leff April 2, 2015 at 11:32 am

Loved being a fly on the wall (my computer) for this conversation.

12 wait April 2, 2015 at 11:45 am

Elon Musk duh

13 Oriol April 2, 2015 at 11:53 am

I will write down the topics for my dates!

14 EconChic April 2, 2015 at 11:55 am

I was very pleasantly surprised with the talk. I really liked both Tyler’s questions and Thiel’s answers. I always thought of him as another silicon valley type, and as such overrated, but if anything I came away from the talk thinking that he might actually be underrated.

15 Todd Kreider April 2, 2015 at 11:59 am

Thiel will be 97 in 2065, assuming he survives WWIII in 2022. I bet medical technology in the second half of this century could push him well beyond 110.

Last fall, David Sinclair told an audience in Australia that he is positive five and six generations alive at once will be possible. Should make for interesting Thanksgiving meals.

16 Jeffrey678 April 2, 2015 at 12:05 pm

“Peter Thiel, founder of Paypall and bankroller of FB and another supporter of the Honduran scheme, wrote: “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

http://coreyrobin.com/2012/10/13/libertarianism-in-honduras/

17 Molly Williams April 2, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Re company names:
Uber: “What are you exactly above? Maybe the law?”

Snork.

18 Lord Action April 2, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Uber, the Napster of personal transportation.

19 bigtime April 2, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Thiel is just another guy who happened to be in the right time and place to ride the cusp of the first major development of a newly discovered area, and he happens to think that it gives him some special insight into how the world should be run. Government’s job is to regulate, not innovate, and Thiel’s brand of regulation cynicism is about as sophisticated as the average Occupier’s cynicism towards business. Government deregulation is not suddenly going to mean that we’re going to discover a brand new field of economic opportunity ripe for easy pickings like software was. It wasn’t deregulation that created the conditions for the software revolution, it was decades of slow, gradual development of the underlying technologies until they reached the point that a new paradigm was possible. And as always happens, once the initial developments get under way, problems emerge with them, and the need for regulation emerges as well. We see that now with the privacy issues. It won’t be long after your refrigerator and your tv is listening in to your conversations and watching you in your living room (for whatever purpose) before people start demanding regulators step in and set some boundaries.

20 Ray Lopez April 2, 2015 at 2:15 pm

@bigtime …blah blah blah… short summary: “Al Gore invented the Internet”. See, I can do one-liners too.

As for your privacy point, it’s pretty well established that a business also has the right to their customer data as much as the customer has a right to privacy. If a local merchant records your image on a security camera when you visit their store, why should they be required to delete it?

21 Evan Harper April 2, 2015 at 6:41 pm

I think you aced it. If Thiel is an especially deep thinker it was not in evidence here.

22 Eric Rogstad April 3, 2015 at 4:22 am

Isn’t the solution to just not buy the listening refrigerator?

23 Bob April 2, 2015 at 1:09 pm

“Biotech .. highly regulated.”

I’ll look forward to the transcript.

24 Ben April 2, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Great interview. Next time I would love to see more follow-up questions and debate, even if this means a less wide-ranging conversation. There were a couple points were I felt like you jumped to a new topic just as the conversation was getting meatiest. I think you’ve got the right vision for these, and would love to see you push even more along the dimensions you outlined ahead of time (probing, more a conversation than an interview, questions they don’t usually get asked, etc.).

25 S April 2, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Pretty damn good so far…

26 rayward April 2, 2015 at 1:30 pm

It’s regrettable that Thiel would blame government regulation of technology in atoms as compared to regulation of technology in bits for the differences in both the amount invested and the advancements in the two categories. I might defend regulation of government regulation of technology in, for example, medical equipment, transportation equipment, etc. (atoms) because the risks to users is much greater as compared to the risks of users of computer software. But that’s untrue, even if it’s conventional wisdom (conventional wisdom to Thiel anyway). What are the risks to the users of computer software? Hackers emptying your bank accounts or emptying trade secrets of business or military secrets of government. Indeed, the risks for users of computer software are far greater, but we have thus far chosen to ignore them while those who create the defective software (if it can be hacked, it’s defective) happily collect their billions.

27 ralph em April 2, 2015 at 2:14 pm

The open mic might not be the best idea judged by the quality of the questions/comments. Other than that some great stuff. I liked Thiel’s comment on distance from the Middle East. I would have loved to hear more geopolitical thoughts. Maybe limiting the risk of nuclear weapons, terrorism and the prospect of major war (e.g. an escalating Japan-China conflict) should be given more priority than breaking the great stagnation (although it might spur that very breakthrough). That rhymes with Tyler’s preference for large political units (city states would be benefiting from the stability provided by a large power).

28 ChacoKevy April 2, 2015 at 8:12 pm

Agreed! The questions asked were cringe inducing.

29 Dan April 2, 2015 at 2:16 pm

Considering how much he was hyped as a non-conformist at the beginning, I really didn’t see much evidence of it in the interview. Seems like a pretty standard tech libertarian type who was in the right place at the right time and now has some money to try out ideas — which is nice (sometimes), but I’m not seeing any mind-blowing ideas.

30 Ryan April 2, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Just like the tags of this post, I appreciated the broad spectrum of topics discussed and I think you successfully achieved your goal, Tyler, to make it “something different”. Looking forward to your next one.

31 macro minimizer April 2, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Could you post these talks on a traditional iTunes podcast? It would be nice to be able to listen to these on my phone from the Podcasts app.

32 Mark Thorson April 2, 2015 at 6:33 pm

“traditional iTunes podcast”? Who uses that? It’s all direct web-to-brain over transcranial neurostimulation. If that doesn’t work in your cave, just wait for the transcript to be posted to MR’s Usenet newsgroup. In ASCII text. On blue paper.

33 Jeff Holmes April 3, 2015 at 10:47 am

macro-

We’re looking into giving the audio edition a dedicated RSS feed, which would let you subscribe through Itunes and other podcasting apps.

-Jeff Holmes

34 Jeff Holmes April 9, 2015 at 1:31 pm
35 dirk April 2, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Great interview!

36 Follow-up April 2, 2015 at 6:21 pm

Based on the way you described this series, I confess to being a bit disappointed. It didn’t feel all that much like a conversation, and you didn’t force him to answer the questions he obviously dodged. I’m thinking here specifically of the exchange about what metric we should be looking at to tell when the “great stagnation” has ended. His response was to engage with the particular imaginative device you used to frame the question (if peter went to sleep) and do some bloviating about how the future isn’t determined and how people create the future.

It felt like any other talk I’ve watched on the web except with people who I was actually interested in hearing. Maybe have the chairs face each other. Who cares if it’s awkward because, according to Theil, we should all avoid social cues anyways.

37 Benito April 3, 2015 at 1:25 pm

I think you are needlessly attributing malice to where mistake is the cause; I think Thiel genuinely misunderstood the question, and it’s acceptable in one of the interviewers first questions, for him to have blundered and not ‘force him to answer’.

38 Los Ranchos April 2, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Innovation is forward looking. The last people to ask about innovation are those who just innovated. This is pretty tedious and already talking points kind of stuff from the Bay Area.

39 Chip April 2, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Nice.

40 Mike April 3, 2015 at 4:08 am

podcast link doesn’t work for me. get an error message from soundcloud

41 Jeff Holmes April 9, 2015 at 1:31 pm
42 rayward April 3, 2015 at 7:32 am

Just to be clear, my criticism of Thiel (in my comment above) isn’t so much about the negative effect of government regulations but the choice to open the dialogue with the standard libertarian/conserative critique of government. It’s enough to discourage one from watching the rest of the dialogue if that’s all Thiel has to offer. But I will watch, in the hope that Thiel will offer something different, and that his opening comments were intended to warm to his audience – after all, it was at the Mercatus Center, and offering something different that might offend or alienate his audience is not a successful technique for advocacy.

43 jseliger April 3, 2015 at 10:17 am

Thiel’s comments about company names reminded me of something, and it took me a while to figure out the answer: this is from Thinking, Fast and Slow:

easily pronounced words evoke a favorable attitude. Companies with pronounceable names do better than others for the first week after the stock is issued, though the effect disappears over time. Stocks with pronounceable trading symbols (like KAR or LUNMOO) outperform those with tongue-twisting tickers like PXG or RDO—they appear to retain a small advantage over time. A study conducted in Switzerland found that investors believe that stocks with fluent names like Emmi, Swissfirst, and Comet will earn higher returns than those with clunky labels like Geberit and Ypsomed.

Does this imply that the return to companies with names that sound good in English may rise over time? What of Huawei (which I admittedly misspelled first and had to look up)? The word “believe” may be key in the above blockquote.

I still don’t buy the naming thing yet I’m likely to remember the idea after many others have faded.

44 rayward April 3, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I’ve now watched the full dialogue (on my Apple TV so I wouldn’t have distractions), and I commend Cowen for his talent as an interviewer. I suppose I expected more (or, more accurately, something different) from Thiel but what he delivered may have been the result of he and Cowen being sympatico. Or, and this was the highlight of the dialogue for me, fellow Gnostics – I do believe both appreciated the irony when Gnosticism was mentioned.

45 Sondre R. April 3, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Great conversation! Having watched many talks with Thiel the goal of challenging him to talk about topics he hadn’t talked about before was absolutely reached. I for my part thought the question from the audience were quite honest, almost weirdly so. A few perhaps even cringe-inducingly so, but nevertheless interesting. Looking forward for the next one.

46 Shane M April 3, 2015 at 10:19 pm

I enjoyed the discussion. You are good as an interviewer.

I’d agree with others that preselected questions (similar to those you posed to him that you’d received via email) might be better than audience posed questions.

I wish he’d have gone further into what’s a curious but intellectually inferior mind to do in the world. Beyond plumbing.

47 Russ Steele April 4, 2015 at 9:38 am

Tyler, thanks for arranging the discussion. I forwarded the link to people I thought would benefit from the interview, including family, friends and our local economic developer.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: