Peter Theil’s “The End of the Future”

Peter Theil is a big thinker. He covers everything from the Green Revolution to the Arab Spring to beating cancer in his National Review article – “The End of the Future.” (Thank you to Paul Kedrosky for sharing on Twitter.)

Couple of my favorite passages:

One cannot in good conscience encourage an undergraduate in 2011 to study nuclear engineering as a career. “Clean tech” has become a euphemism for “energy too expensive to afford,” and in Silicon Valley it has also become an increasingly toxic term for near-certain ways to lose money. 

This one was painful to read because of my ardent faith in free markets, though I acknowledge that obvious fallacies breed within the system:

The most common name for a misplaced emphasis on macroeconomic policy is “Keynesianism.” Despite his brilliance, John Maynard Keynes was always a bit of a fraud, and there is always a bit of clever trickery in massive fiscal stimulus and the related printing of paper money. But we must acknowledge that this fraud strangely seemed to work for many decades.

On our political system and the inmates running the asylum:

Most of our political leaders are not engineers or scientists and do not listen to engineers or scientists. Today a letter from Einstein would get lost in the White House mail room, and the Manhattan Project would not even get started; it certainly could never be completed in three years. I am not aware of a single political leader in the U.S., either Democrat or Republican, who would cut health-care spending in order to free up money for biotechnology research — or, more generally, who would make serious cuts to the welfare state in order to free up serious money for major engineering projects. 


Theil’s piece follows a number of dysphoric perspectives skirting my computer screen lately:

Is America Giving Up on the Future? (Umair Haque on HBR).  The best line of this article:

Call me crazy, but I’d bet: you probably can’t Farmville your way into the future. Prosperity isn’t a video game. Reality matters.

Innovation Starvation (Neal Stephenson, World Policy Institute):

Still, I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few. Scientists and engineers who came of age during the first half of the 20th century could look forward to building things that would solve age-old problems, transform the landscape, build the economy, and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy.

World on Wi-Fire (Niall Ferguson in Newsweek)

In view of the extraordinary economic and political instability of recent months, it’s worth asking if the Netlords are the Four Horsemen of a new kind of information apocalypse.

Smart people think we’re on the downslope.  Could they be right, or time to go long on society?




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