The Most Doomed Cities & Why Tech Progress Has Stalled | Peter Thiel | TECH | Rubin Report
- Those parts where there was still progress and where things were still getting better also were somehow distracting us from the lack of progress everywhere else. The ways in which we're not a progressive society, we use the word progressive, gets used all the time, but it doesn't stand for actual progress. And you know, I always say, you know, the iPhones that, you know, distract us from our environment also distract us from the way it's strangely old. So you're looking at an iPhone while you're riding a hundred year old subway that's completely busted in New York. - Right. - And so there's
something about, we have some elements of progress, but they've been distracting us from, you know, the lack of progress or even the outright decline. (dynamic music) - I'm Dave Rubin, live from the local studio here in Miami. And joining me today is the founder of The Thiel Foundation, the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, Peter Theil.
I could have given you like a whole bigger intro there. Anything else you wanna throw in yourself? - It's all good. Generally, the shorter the intro, the more flattering it is. - Oh.
- You have super long, you have a 20 page resume for people who've never done anything, so it's. - Well, I was gonna say, Renaissance man, disgruntled libertarian something, something. - The longer the intro gets, the more it suggests that you're not really doing anything at all. - Oh, all right. Well, you are doing a lot.
I have, I actually have notes. I never have notes when I do a show, but I was like, I want to cover some new ground and not just get into the political thing that we're always fighting with everybody about. But I thought I'd start because we are here in Miami. You know, you famously left San Francisco, moved most of the operation to Los Angeles.
You do have a place in Miami. How do you feel about this sort of movement of people across the country right now and sort of watching people migrate to different places to live very, very different ways? - Well, it's surely a very healthy thing that, you know, it's, in retrospect, it's amazing that people were as stuck as they were in the places they were in, for such a long time. And, you know, the history of the U.S. was that this had always been a society where people moved a lot between places and the mobility, the physical mobility had actually gone down probably a lot for the last 40 or 50 years relative to the, you know, 200 year history before that.
And so, and you know, it's, it's probably the jury's still a bit out whether this is a temporary or permanent feature, but it's surely a healthy recalibration. It's sort of this idea, you can always start over in this country, and one of the ways you start over is you move to a new place. - Were you kind of patting yourself on the back, that you were the first guy outta San Francisco? And my audience is well aware, as I've posted some videos from a recent visit to San Francisco, the way that place has just collapsed under progressive policies is absolutely insane.
I'm guessing you don't have any employees that are wishing that you guys had stayed, although you still do have some people there, right? - There still are some people, not very many that still are living in San Francisco proper. And yeah, it is really extraordinary. I lived in San Francisco from 2003 to 2018, and it sort of, you know, it never quite got better. But the idea, it took a while for the idea to sneak up on people that it was actually on the slow dk deterioration thing. You know, the homelessness was always a chronic problem.
Circa 2014, 2015, you started to realize, you know, it's actually getting worse and they're never gonna, it's not just that this is this fake problem that they're taking a long time to fix. It's, they are, it's a fake problem they use to distract from everything else, they're never gonna fix it. - So when you're hearing- - But it's also a real problem, you know. - Well, it's also right, it's clearly a real problem, but something that they either don't seem interested in fixing, well, what do you think is the answer to that? They're not interested? - There are a lot of problems that are both real and fake.
- Yeah. - So the homeless problem is, you know, yeah, it's an incredible problem, but it's also, you get a sense that it never gets fixed. And so if you talk about a problem that you're never gonna fix, then you can avoid talking about all the other problems. Like, let's say cost of living for out of control rents for people with homes or broken schools or, you know, crime or, you know, there's sort of probably half a dozen other issues that move to the bottom of the queue as long as we talk about an unsolvable problem. - When you were there, were you trying to talk to them about those things and say, guys like, look at what is happening here and the state of the decay? - Well, on the city level, it felt like exit is much more powerful than voice. - Yeah. - You know, it is.
It was, I'm not sure it's super corrupt, but San Francisco is super ideological in this very left wing, very un-reformable way. And you know, it would be, you know, it's, I always have a schizophrenic view about getting involved in politics where it's like super important and super toxic, but getting involved in San Francisco City politics, that would be, that would be absolutely an insane thing to do relative to just moving. - You're not enough of a masochist for that. - It's, you know, heroism's good. Martyrdom not so good.
And, and, and yeah, the relative, the relative sanity of getting involved in local politics or just moving out of San Francisco, you should always move. - So to that point, one more thing on this. So now you're here in Florida, you know, you have a place here. - For the winter, last few winters, yes.
- So you're splitting time, and obviously you also have your place in LA. But do you feel a real tangible difference when you're here? I mean, you know, I left a year ago and it's like, I have not looked back and I'm loving it here, and I see something so incredibly powerful and flourishing here. Do you feel that when you're here? - Well, it has, you know, there is sort of just an extraordinary difference if you're in a place where you just feel it's growing versus not. - Yeah. - And there's a sense in which Florida, Texas, have this dynamic of where it's just growing. You know, every storefront is full.
There are no empty stores, you know, everything. It's not, I'm not sure it's quite booming, but it feels, you know, it feels healthy and growing. And then, and then, you know, much of California does not quite have that feel, even though, of course, you know, Silicon Valley's been this odd place where it was a, you know, gold rush and everyone was depressed. - Yeah. - Even so for the last decade. So Silicon Valley had a very odd dynamic, whereas a crazy boom that didn't actually feel that way if you, you know, walk down the street and then certainly with the COVID shock the last few years, it's quite different.
I still think California is probably somewhat healthier than New York or, you know, completely bankrupt states like Illinois or, you know, non states like Puerto Rico. - Mm-hmm. - But. - Why do you think healthier than New York? - I think, I think there are ways that the finance industry that New York is centered on is more movable than the tech industry in California. And probably the very big tech companies like Google and Apple, it's hard to picture them actually moving out of California.
Whereas you can picture the big banks gradually moving out of New York, and there's something about finance that's been a little bit more movable. It also paradoxically makes it more dangerous for California, because if things ever go wrong, they will be so bust. - Right. - It'll be like Detroit, which thought that it had these captive big three car manufacturers and could get away with very bad policies in Michigan, Detroit, for decade after decade. And then when, you know, when that industry finally went south, you know, it was, it was just unfixable. - Do you find that these- - New York's in a worse shape right now because people are, you know, relatively more people are leaving, it's easier for the businesses to leave and then maybe, maybe California if it's not careful, you know, it will at some point really go off the cliff.
- Right. Do you find that these things sort of happen slowly and then very quickly? So something like California, it's like, you know, Callie's lost almost a million people in these last three years, and a lot of them are high earners. I mean, these are people who are paying into the system that's ever growing.
At some point, somebody has to look at numbers, right? And be like, none of this works, you know, or I guess maybe not, right? It just continues somehow, I suppose. - Yeah, I actually, I don't know how many of them were the highest earners in California the last few years. I think New York was a little bit more that effect than California.
But yes, these things, you know, we have these odd dynamics where things go on for a very long time. They're not ultimately sustainable. But, you know, there's some, there's some way I often think that much of the 2000s and 2010s were this weird continuation of the 1990s, you know. The decades, there were things that happened, you know, you had 9/11, you had the global financial crisis, Trump election, Brexit.
There were some events that happened in those 20 years, but it was surprisingly little. December, 2019, I was reflecting on the 2010s. And I realized there've been no retrospectives on this decade. What actually happened in the 2010s? You know, we had marijuana legalization, we had "Game of Thrones," and people fell into their iPhones and then, but then it was somehow just this thing that was sort of a stretched, exhausted version of the 2000s, which themselves were a stretched, exhausted version of the nineties.
And then, and then I, yeah, I wanna say that in some sense, you know, March, 2020, when COVID hits, we finally, you know, a lot of these things finally accelerate. And you know, and we're finally in the 21st century. - So that's actually a great segue to sort of where I wanted to start today.
Because years ago, once off camera, you said to me, "I wouldn't be a libertarian if any of it worked." And I just thought that line pretty much captures so much of what's happening, even right this moment. You referenced the last three years of COVID where it seems like nothing really works anymore. Our government kind of doesn't work, our educational institutions don't seem to work. The medical field doesn't seem to work. Is it all, is it sort of obvious that they were all not gonna work at the exact same time? Or how did this happen? - Well, you know, I'm tempted to say the rot has been building up for a long time.
And, you know, if you define technology as doing more with less, so many of these institutions, educational and even healthcare are kind of the opposite, where you get the same for more or you get less for more. So it's the anti-tech definition when you think of the public schools probably in some sense, the quality of the education is way lower than it was 50 or 60 years ago. The costs are way higher. And so it's, it is, you're getting less for more. And then there are, you know, versions of this with healthcare where maybe, maybe people are getting a little bit better healthcare than they were 30 years ago but at double the cost. So it's, again, you know, a lot of, it's sort of like a 80% socialist healthcare system that we have.
Not a hundred percent, but 80%. And there's a lot of stuff that's screwed up with that. So yeah, I think there are a lot of things that had not been working for quite some time.
And maybe the interesting question is why people weren't noticing it or something like that. - Yeah, so what do you think that is? Is that just our modern lives, we're staring at our phones all day, we're watching TV shows and we're just not paying attention to what's going on. - There were still some parts of our society where things were progressing. There was certainly some, you know, maybe narrow cone of progress around computers, software, internet, mobile internet.
And then those parts where there was still progress and where things were still getting better also were somehow distracting us from the lack of progress everywhere else. The ways in which we're not a progressive society, we use the word progressive. It gets used all the time, but it doesn't stand for actual progress. And you know, I always say, you know, the iPhones that, you know, distract us from our environment also distract us from the way it's strangely old. So you're looking at an iPhone while you're riding a hundred year old subway that's completely busted in New York.
- Right. - And so there's something about, we have some elements of progress, but they've been distracting us from, you know, the lack of progress or even the outright decline. And then it, yeah, there was some kind of crazy crystallizing event like COVID where, you know, you have no science, no rationality. You know, you can't, it takes a long time to even get the vaccine approved. You know, the FDA's just a blocker. All these things, you know, don't work that well.
They still work relatively better in the U.S. than many other countries, but all sorts of things are, are really off. - So as the guy that was the first outside investor in Facebook and sort of, you know, at the beginning of the tech boom 20 something years ago, were you thinking about some of that then? Or was anyone talking about the fact that we might all get distracted by so much information and so much nonsense in scrolling and all of this stuff that everything else will just kind of slide away and we won't even know? Like was there any inkling of some of that? - Well, I didn't, you know, I think it's always a little bit unfair to put too much of the blame on Silicon Valley for this, where, you know, there was some innovation in Silicon Valley. There was a sense in which it probably was not, not quite enough. You know, there was a, this manifesto that my venture capital fund put out back in 2011 where the tagline was, you know, they promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters. And that wasn't, it wasn't meant as an anti Twitter argument per se, you know, like Twitter, you know, it's a good business.
It's good for the several thousand people that work there. Maybe there were slightly too many, but- - Yeah, yeah. - Or at least for the several thousand that are left, it's a good business. - Yeah.
- It's, and you know, it somehow was transformative in some way, but it's wasn't enough to, you know, take our whole civilization to the next level. And this was, so I think Silicon Valley was doing some things, but it was not enough. And then, you know, there were arguments that, you know, it didn't have to all be in Silicon Valley. You know, they weren't building flying cars in Silicon Valley. They weren't building flying cars anywhere else. - Right.
So, since you mentioned Twitter, let's just do an Elon thing for a second. As you watch the guy buy this thing, obviously you guys did PayPal together and everything else. Do you think he realized what a freaking headache this thing was gonna become and how crazy the product under the hood actually was? - There was probably, there was probably, man, I haven't talked to him about the Twitter, the Twitter acquisition. I think that- - Or just broadly speaking, figure, finding that so many of these things are sort of broken under the hood in a way. - I think, I think he had some idea, but probably not the full extent.
- Yeah. - Right. There was probably, you know, probably the fact that they were willing to sell Twitter to him should have told him. They were just, I mean, it was just, it was just, you know, Jack Dorsey, all these other people.
It was, you know, they were just these figureheads and it was, I mean, the inmates were running the asylum. - Yeah. - And it was, it was probably on some level, you know, you know, there was some part of it that was somewhat ideological, there was a way that Elon felt like the wrong person ideologically to take over Twitter.
But I mean, after a decade of the stock going nowhere, they were just completely exhausted. - Yeah. You can only lose money for so long. I don't know that much about business, but. - They didn't lose money, but they didn't, if you look at the Twitter price the day, at the end of the first day of trading, so, you know, price the IPO, it closes on day one, and I forget what the exact number was.
- Oh, I think it was, it was roughly the same, right? - It was roughly the same as at the point where Elon offered to acquire it. So it had gone nowhere in a decade. - Yeah. - In a context where a lot of tech stocks had gone up. - Right. - So I think they were, they were just completely exhausted and it was sort of a plea for help.
And then Elon probably on some level realized it, and on some level didn't realize quite how, you know, please take this company from us. And, and you know, you can hear that as Elon, you're wonderful, you can do a great job. Or we're just really, really exhausted. - Right. - It probably
was some combination of both. - Right, so, all right. So let's shift a little bit.
I want to talk to you, one of the things that we've covered an awful lot on my show in the last two months is a lot of the globalist stuff and the WEF and the meetings in Davos and all of these things. And I always try to say when I'm doing these things on the show, it's like I don't have a full sense of how much influence these organizations actually have versus just they give these crazy speeches. We all kind of freak out about it. But what are actually the policies? And then on the other hand, you see someone maybe like a Justin Trudeau who seems like he really is incorporating a lot of the policies of the WEF. So as someone that, you've been to some of these things over the years, right? Like what do you make of what actually goes on there? I assume you're usually kind of on the outside, even if you're there. - Yeah. - Just because of your political leaning.
- I went to the WEF three times, 2008, 2009, 2013. So I haven't been in about a decade. It is, I mean, there's things about it that are maybe, maybe talking something about globalism generally. It is somehow this official ideology. It is, it's in some ways very exhausted. So it's, I think the tide is going out.
The high watermark year was probably 2007. - Hmm. - And it's been going out in some way for 16 years, but it's been going out very, very slowly.
And there are sort of ways that it is, you know, in theory, you know, a borderless, more integrated, more peaceful world, is a good world for the 21st century. - Theory, sure. - That's good globalization. - Right. - And then there are all kinds of versions of it that are kind of bad, where it just ends up being, you know, a racket for, you know, dictators stealing money and stashing it in Swiss bank accounts, which probably with Davos you can think of as a sort of reputation laundering operation or something like that.
- Yeah. - Or there are all sorts of versions of it that are, you know, deeply, deeply unhealthy. And I think it has been on this kind of autopilot where it just keeps going even though it's very exhausted. I think it's been exhausted for 15 years. - Is that why in some ways the rhetoric seems to ramp up where, you know, they really are making it sound like we control you and we are the gods.
And it's sort of like hysterical because perhaps there actually isn't, I mean, that would be, I would love that as the takeaway here. - Yeah, there probably are all these different vectors of globalization. There's, you know, trade is the movement of goods, movement of people is sort of immigration policy, movement of money is banking and finance and, and then movement of ideas is the internet. And so there's sort of a, those are, you can sort of analyze it in terms of these, these different sectors.
And there were, in theory, all these ways these things should work. In theory, you know, free trade is, is a positive sum exercise where both sides benefit. You know, I think it was, you know, Adam Smith who said, you know, why would anybody ever throw rocks in their own harbor? And then, you know, being able to move, you know, between countries and places is also something that you might expect to see in a dynamic healthy world.
So there are sort of all kinds of ways these things are in theory pretty good. And then in practice they went very haywire. The movement of money piece was in some ways the global financial crisis where people were sending the money to all these different places all over the world where they had no local knowledge and it was badly invested and then the banks blew up. And that, so that you can think of 2008 as the financial part of globalization kind of blew up.
And then you know, one version would be, well, it's gonna just stop and we're gonna stop sending the money. And it sort of got replaced by governments. So if you think about Europe, sort of a mini globalization in the form of the European Union, the EU. And basically in 2007, German savers were voluntarily buying Italian bonds and sort of this international financial flows. After 2008, nobody wanted to do that anymore, but the Northern European government stepped in, and started doing it and somehow kept that game going for, for another decade or so.
But yeah, my intuition is that it's very exhausting. There's obviously a China version of this. - Yeah. - Where, you know, in 2007, people still talked about globalization as, you know, all the developing countries, and they were gonna converge with a developed world.
And it was sort of, it was a sort of convergence theory of history. And in some ways that story got dominated much more by China. And there are, you know, there are sort of, there are ways in which China has been growing, but it's actually not been globalizing, if globalizing means becoming, you know, sort of a, a western liberal democracy. And so China's actually, you know, this place that hasn't been following that script terribly well. And if the biggest country in the world doesn't fit the picture of globalization at some point should tell you, you know, the theory's wrong. - Right. - End of history theory
was a version of globalization. And I always say that, you know, in 2000, you know, the end of history itself was obviously over, ended in 2017 when Xi becomes dictator for life, you know? - Right. So I think- - And the biggest country isn't gonna- - I think Blake, Blake Masters, who you co-wrote "Zero to One" with, I think his line on China was we thought that we would make China more like us basically by having a conversation with China about what's going on with the world. And instead we became more like China.
So I take it you probably agree with that premise, generally? - It's a very disturb, it's a, you know, it has a great deal of very disturbing truth to it. And where yeah, there's sort of all this, you know, social credit scoring, centralized control. Obviously we're still very far ways off from China. You know, I wouldn't wanna move there.
China is a lot worse than China was 10 years ago. - Mm-hmm. - I mean, you know, I think, you know, I think it was, you know, it was a one party communist state in 2012, but I don't think it felt as heavy handed and as totalitarian as it does now.
I mean, there's, I don't know what the right metaphor is. It's like the Cylons in "Battlestar Galactica," where they've just been, the tech is just, it's like all the surveillance tech. Everyone's being monitored at all times and all places now in a way that they were not a decade ago. - So is the white pill a version of that, that it just can't sustain itself long enough if you surveil people constantly, if you control everything constantly, eventually you cannot maintain that level of control. Something to that effect.
- There are, you know, there are, there are stories we like to tell where it's just going to collapse. There are, you know, there are also very pessim- I think those are too optimistic. And I think there are ones that are, you know, overly, overly pessimistic where China's just gonna take over the whole world. - Yeah. - And somehow it's more efficient or things like that.
And I think both the extreme optimistic and extremely pessimistic stories are probably wrong, it's somewhere in between. And, you know, we have to, we should not assume it's gonna collapse on its own. We need to think very hard about, you know, you know, how we rise up to the challenge that China represents, and it has, you know, has all these dimensions, military, technological, economic.
It's sort of much more multifaceted than the challenge the Soviet Union was, which was, you know, much more military and you know, ideological. - When you say we, is it like, is it our political establishment, that we are the ones that are gonna have to deal with this probably? Like what actually is we now? - We is always, that's a good catch. We is always a very ambiguous word. - Yeah. - It means we conservatives, we libertarians, it means we Republicans- - Right. - We Americans and we the western world or we all the countries that are not China.
- Yeah. Or maybe we. The two of us! - Or maybe the two of us. - Right, like, so, but what do you mean by that? Like in a sense of like if we were- - All the above. - Yeah.
- All the above. - It's all the above. - You know, there's, there probably is, you know, there's always a debate between, let's say, you know, the President Trump's policy was somewhat of a unilateral anti tough on China policy. And there's obviously a sense where a multilateral approach to China is more powerful and better.
It's also hard to pull off. And so multilateralism in theory is good, in practice, you have to always worry that that's, that's almost like a Chinese communist decoy tactic where they're intentionally encouraging us to be multilateral because they know that will go super slow. - Right. Basically like having the UN do anything- - Or the WTO, or all these, all these multinational agencies that have been, you know, semi hijacked. - Yeah. - So, so yeah.
But I think, yeah, I think there are, there are ways in which, yeah, one should start with rethinking it on a US level and then it's definitely something we need to bring our allies into. - Do you think we have enough sort of, not mental acumen, but do we have enough like juice left in America to tackle things properly? I think that's what a lot of people are feeling right now, that the incompetency is so across the board, and Biden is so either mentally compromised or has the wrong ideas, or is staffed the wrong way, or whatever you wanna call that, that we just don't have enough left to do the right thing in the world. - You know, we. - At least as it stands now. - There are always worries that we have, that we're exhausted. But I kind of wonder whether this is just sort of the baby boomer narrative where, you know, the boomers were- - I hope so. - They were this very
big generation, and then the country was always defined by the age the boomers were. So the 1950s was this innocent childhood time because the boomers were 10 years old, and the late sixties was this great youth movement because the boomers were all in college, and the 1980s, the boomers were yuppies, and now the boomers are all retired and angry old people and then- - Or hanging on, or hanging on. - And then that somehow, that somehow is the template for the whole US. So I, you know, I think, so I think the complicated answer is, there's some truth to it because the boomers have dominated our society and they're sort of in a, in a strange place right now as a generation. But they're not the whole society.
We're not all boomers. - Do you think that's a little bit of, because people are living longer and medicine has been good and technology has enabled people to be sort of functional longer, that now we're ruled by octogenarians who, you know, basically should, you know, when you see Nancy Pelosi up there, it's like, go with your grandchildren, go play with your grandchildren. You don't have to be out there still, or Biden, you know, it's like they can't let go because science in some ways has kept them going. - It hasn't changed it, it's been frustratingly slow. I mean, we've had some, some extension of life expectancy actually reversed the last few years with COVID and the opioid epidemic, et cetera. But, but no, I think the main, the main dynamic was you haven't, you never had a generation like the boomers, you know.
I'm, you know, I'm Gen X. - Yeah. - You know, there are millennials and there's some generational sensibility you can tell, or silent generation, there's some generational story you can tell around other people, but the, you know, the generation with a really strong identity is the boomers. And I think it's, there were just so many of them. It was like in 1946, there were 20% more kids born than 1945 or something. It was like a step function up, and then you get the birth control pill in the early sixties and you have fewer babies.
And so it was just, it was just a lot of people. - Where does that put us, the Gen Xers that seemingly should be doing the thing right now and I suppose in some cases we are, but, but really are the missing generation in an odd way. We focus on boomers and then, you know, millennials or Zoomers or whatever it is. Like we've sort of missed the people that are between say 40 and, you know, late fifties. - Yeah, I've all these resentful Gen X things I can say.
But no, I think there's, there's probably some narrative where it's a smaller group and so there's a risk that you end up being sort of left out. I mean, I think there's some things where we did perfectly fine. - Yeah. - I mean, we had our, we had our share of, you know, Olympic gold medalists because you get those at a certain age. And we were at the right age at a certain point.
You know, it's, we had 28 years of boomer presidents, and I sometimes wonder whether we're ever gonna have a Gen X president, which is just, it's not enough. And maybe you just skip to the millennials. So, you know, the Silicon Valley story in the 1990s was the internet companies were started by Gen X people and then somehow bought out, taken over by boomers. And that's sort of what happened to almost all the companies in the nineties.
And then the boomers probably had a healthier relationship with the millennials where it was, those were, the millennials were their kids. And so they were, they were a little bit nicer to the millennials than they were to us. We were sort of more their competitors. - Wow. - So. - We were their replacements. - When PayPal got acquired by eBay in 2002, and it was sort of this boomer company, and we were this Gen X company, one of my friends, David Sack said, you know, if it would be a movie it would be called, "Meet the Parents," sort of this stodgy older people company was gonna clearly not be fun.
- Yeah. - When they took over. But actually you need a, you need sort of a word for, for people who are half a generation older, not related to you and are gonna be a lot less nice to you than your parents, and so. - Right, we need, we do need a word for that. - So I think that it would be more like, I dunno, Meg Whitman would be like, more meet the, the evil young stepmother. - Right, right.
So actually since you mentioned Sacks, do you find it interesting if you were to look back 20 years ago and boy, you know, Elon's doing everything he's doing now. You've done incredible things. You know, Sacks is becoming an outspoken political voice.
You know, really anti-war. He's one of the people leading that thing, that this crew of you know, the PayPal mafia, so to speak. You guys are all still in the mix in a odd way. Is there something special about what was going on there 20 years ago? - It was. - Or it's more than 20 years at this point.
- You know, it's always hard to, it's hard to tell the story. It was, it was, I don't think we really appreciated it at the time, but yeah, it was a phenomenal group of people. There's always, there's always a sense where PayPal didn't really succeed in that big a way, you know, it was a successful exit in 2002, it was you know, one and a half billion acquisition by eBay.
But it didn't, you know, we couldn't figure out how to run the business on our own. It made sense to combine it with eBay for all sorts of reasons. It was, you know, you know, in some ways a depressing, but a very rational thing- - Hmm. - To do, and then- - Did you feel that at the time? That maybe you wanted to hold on a little bit longer or something like that? - It, we didn't, it was hard to see a path to an independent business where, you know, eBay had the store and we were running the cash registers and the people running the store were trying to figure out how to get their own cash register machines to work and figured it out one time we'd be sort of out of business and then the ways you could gradually diversify away from eBay and, but it took like a decade in practice.
So I think, you know, I think the combination made a lot of sense, but then it somehow short circuited the business, whereas, you know, so many of the other tech companies just scaled and scaled and scaled, which like the Google history or something like that. And that would've been, you know, a far more successful version, but probably would've done less, you know, if you, if you were, if you had, you know, if you'd got gotten on board the Google rocket at the right time, you should have just never gotten off. - Right. When you see the frustrations that people have with these things, you know, the sort of lack of trust in these things, you know, is the government working to silence you on Twitter? Or how is Google manipulating the search results or all of these things? Do you also see those as inevitable problems that were gonna happen with these things? The reason I ask is I heard you give a talk at NatCon, you gave the keynote speech last year. And one of the things you said was that nobody represents the individual at these big conferences. And I sort of think that's the same problem that we have with tech.
Nobody represents the individual anymore. We just have these giant corporations that, or these giant tech companies that make decisions. You cannot get somebody on the phone.
You can't actually communicate as yourself. You, there is, you know, there's a business version of it, something like that. - Yeah, there probably are all kinds of ways they have biases in that direction. You know, there's always Nom Chomsky, the communist MIT professor. I always like to quote him on this where he says that, you know, the Republicans are the parties, the party of business, but the Democrats discriminate.
The Democrats are the party of big business. - Yeah. - And there's sort of like a center left. - Look at you, quoting a communist, there you go. - Well, you know- - Every now and again.
- Entirely wrong about things or, you know. But, there's sort of a central left sensibility where, you know, basically big businesses can be regulated. They'll follow all the rules. Small businesses, you know, they often make a little bit more money by being a gray area, not following the rules to the letter. And so there is probably just this structural anti small business bias that's you know, political, regulatory, cultural, partisan, that's very deep. - Yeah, were you shocked how obvious that became during COVID? I mean, where, you know, Target could stay open for, you know, the big box store, but the mom and pop that was selling the exact same thing next door got closed.
That shows the bias right there, right? The system just kind of eliminated a certain set of people. - Yes, I think, I mean, I think it was, yeah, it was a, I mean a dramatic shift in terms of the power of big relative to small businesses. And it probably, I dunno, I think in some ways COVID surfaced all these realities that had been there for a long time. - Yeah. - And yeah, this was,
this was the institutional center left establishment in this country. You know, it's good with big business, it's anti, it's very anti small business. - How did you fight some of that with your businesses during COVID and figuring out, you know, were people gonna work from home or, or just all of the nonsense that everybody dealt with? Did you try to give as much power to your employees and say, do what you gotta do or? - Well, you know, most of the- - 'Cause even now a lot of the people still don't want to come back. That's one of the problems that Elon's having.
- Most of the tech companies were pretty well positioned to adapt to COVID, where, you know, if you're, there were sort of ways you could do the remote work. You could work remotely, do things like that. And it seemingly didn't hurt the business too much. And then of course there was, there was a way where COVID shifted a lot to the internet.
So a lot of the tech companies in which I'm involved, you know, got a, got a big temporary boost from COVID even though, you know, maybe they, maybe they actually got, you know, more bloated, less well managed in the last two, three years. And that's what I worry about. - Yeah. - So it was, it was actually sort of a windfall for them.
And then the question is just did they, did they really take advantage of it, or did they get even more dysfunctional in various ways? - Do you think more people in the tech world, or maybe even in the political world actually think like you to some degree, but because of the way we, the hive mind is, or the globalist movement or whatever it is, they just sort of always go to that. But I think, you know, if you privately sat down with these people about what their real beliefs in the individual are in capitalism in these things. - Directionally yes.
But I think it, I always wonder if it actually works if you can't say it. So, so yes, surely it's almost the definition of political correctness that it distorts things. - Yeah. - And that there are all sorts of people who are, people are less politically correct than they appear to be, because political correctness is about appearances. And then the reality's always that people are gonna think it's a little bit crazy.
You know, there probably are a lot of parents who think the schools went very crazy. But, but then if you feel like you can't talk about it or articulate it, it's not going to be that well formed a view at all. And so that's, and so I think the political correctness is, is real to the extent it just stops people from saying things. You don't actually get to a very considered non-politically correct opinion.
- Right, it's interesting, 'cause that also then gets to the stagnation part that you're talking about. If people can't talk about what the actual issues are, then you really don't have to wonder why we're so stagnated and why we got 140 characters instead of flying cars. - Sure. There's probably some way all these things, yeah, all these things are linked. But, but yeah, I think if we live in a society where there are an awful lot of topics that are somewhat off limits, you know, where, you know, and if we think about science, let's think about sort of freedom of speech or debate in the area of science. And I always think you can describe science as involving a two front war in theory.
Should be a two front war against excessive dogmatism and excessive skepticism. So excessive dogmatism in the 17th, 18th century context, it's like the Catholic church or it's this sort of decayed Aristotelianism and you know, a scientist, you know, needs to think for themselves and challenge the sort of ossified dogmas or ossified metaphysics. And you just do an experiment, you think for yourself. But then you also can't be a scientist if you're too skeptical. So if I don't think you exist, I think you're just a simulation or- - Yeah. - Everything's fake. Nothing's real.
I'm just in a brain being, I'm just a brain in a vat being manipulated by mad scientists. - That's why I got bored of interviewing atheists. - That's not a good world for science either. - Yeah. - So you can't be too dogmatic, you can't be too skeptical.
- Yeah. - And sort of probably healthy version of science cuts against both excess dogmatism and excess skepticism. But my scoring is, it's all anti skepticism at this point. The scientific establishment, it's all circling the wagons.
- Yeah. - And we have a climate change skeptic, we have a, you know, you can't be skeptic of, you know, you can't be a vaccine skeptic, you can't be a skeptic of anything. And so it's all against skepticism, which is of course the exact opposite of, you know, let's say a children's science book would be that a scientist thinks for themselves and is against dogmatism, not against skepticism. - So what do we do? What do we do to break outta that? - It's 80% anti dogmatism, 20% anti skepticism.
That's healthy science. We're in a world where it's a hundred percent anti skepticism. And that's a tell that it's hyper dogmatic and that the scientists, no, the scientists can't talk freely about the science.
And if you have, you know, if you have, if you have dissenting views, you better keep them to yourself or your government funding will get cut off and they're, you know, they're all in the sort of government welfare or something like that. - I mean, look at the last three years of COVID and I think you pretty much get your answer, right? - A shockingly narrow range of discourse allowed in science. - Was there a moment during COVID- - Science in scare quotes.
- Yeah, right. So was there a moment during COVID where you realized how dysregulating that effect was? That you couldn't get a counter? I mean, I saw you a couple times during COVID for dinners and things, and it was like we weren't wearing masks and we were sitting there, I don't even know if you were allowed to have people at your house. Like, but humans continued and yet the machine just kept telling you, no, stay in your house and wear the masks and get the vax, and do-do-do. - I had a lot of skepticism about all these things before I would say. - Yeah. - Or the skepticism
of the excessive dogmatism of science. - Yeah. - And I think, I think that had, but yes, it was still, it was still strike, it was like you had these, I dunno, you had these public health officials, all these people were, it was just, again, the opportunity to really to push it in a conformist standardized way.
It was, what was extraordinary about it, wasn't just the dogmatism and the uniformity, but it was, it was the Orwellian character where we pivoted radically from black to white, A to not A and so, you know, it was, it was, I'm not gonna get, the history was so, it was so many twists and turns, it's hard to even keep it straight. But I believe October, 2020, it was still Kamala Harris saying that she would never take a vaccine. - Yeah. - A Trump vaccine. - A Trump vaccine, yeah. - And then, you know, and then when I- - That you literally shouldn't trust the agencies because he has something to do with it.
That's what she said. - And then, you know, and then a year later it's like you're a really crazy person if you don't get one. So we had these sort of Orwellian twists in the narrative.
- Yeah. - You know, there was, there was the thing where originally the masks didn't work because they were trying to lie to save the mask for the hospital workers or something. - Right. - And then you pivoted on that.
There was, you know, anyway, there was all these, these crazy twists and turns. There was, you know, there was the initial, the very initial one where, you know, it was just, we shouldn't shut the border because that's anti-globalist. And then when Trump, you know, and then when President Trump didn't, wasn't restrictive enough, then somehow it all shifted into the sort of pure nanny state. - Yeah, so it seems like it all flipped almost, I think this is what you're saying, it happened so quickly that we almost couldn't react, like, so the same people who were saying, my body, my choice, were the same ones yelling at you that you must be injected with the thing I wanna inject you with. And I think that was so dysregulating. - Sort of like, it was like, you know, the sky is blue, but no, they were saying the sky is green and then the sky is orange and then the sky is yellow.
So it was just this dizzying shift in the dogmas. It wasn't like the Catholic church in the Middle Ages where at least the dogmas stayed the same for a few hundred years. - Yeah. - They don't, they didn't change them like every six months.
- So what does that tell you, I guess this is a little bit of what you're doing at Stanford now. What does that tell you about people's belief systems and how they operate? - Well, it's, it is- - 'Cause they seem to believe anything on any given day. You could almost, depending on who was president and what their, you know, party was, you could get virtually anyone to say almost anything. - Yeah, I would say, I would, I mean it's hard to do sweeping generalizations about our society, but it's striking how many things are not very well thought through at all. And there are, yeah, I think there are, there's some set of things where things are doctrinaire and dogmatic and then they're all kinds of issues that barely even register as problems and we don't even talk about. So I, yeah, I think there's this, yeah, this official ideology, but it's almost like a magic show hypnotic trick where you know, it redirects our attention from other things.
So people have, yeah, they have very well defined opinions on the vaccine and those are sort of officially set. But then if we talk about a topic like tech stagnation or how fast are we developing vaccines generally, how fast are we curing other diseases besides COVID? That's something people don't even think about. - Right. What are you thinking about that maybe the average person isn't thinking about? Like if we're to get to the other side of the stagnation and let's say we start breaking through some of this stuff, which we will eventually, some society has to, I think to some degree, what should we be thinking about? - Well, there are, I mean, there are, there are a lot of, there are a lot of different topics one could, I mean, I dunno, there's some that I've, you know, I feel I've thought about, there's probably a small number that I always keep coming back to, that. But- - I got one I want you to come back to, I'll tell you in a second, but I wanna hear what you- - Probably the, you know, the big one is always just, you know, I don't think our society's progressing that quickly in that many dimensions. Why has it slowed? What's gone wrong? Why has that happened? And that's probably, that's probably the big topic question theme that I've come back to over the last two decades, over and over again.
And then there are, yeah, there's all sorts of different answers one can get to. There probably are good reasons for us to be so slow, but I think it pushes you to ask a lot of deep questions about our society, that it would be good for us to think about more. - So the one that I don't know if you're thinking about at all anymore, I suspect you are at least at some level, is you were really interested in seasteading a couple probably what, 15 or so years ago, this idea that there could sort of be these libertarian utopias- - Yes. - Sort of international waters where people could do experimental medication and operations and things of this nature.
To me, it feels like so many people have such a lack of faith in the system, that there's an opportunity there again. Does, is that registering with you at all? Is it, do you feel like the operation is gone? Has someone else picked up maybe where you left off? - They are still trying to, trying to do it in various ways. It's not that easy to do. You know, there probably are, on some level there are technological issues where it's not that cheap to build. - Right, okay. - And then,
and then there are all these reasons where, you know, you have to sort of, if you do that, you have to, if you have something that's floating, what if, you know, if you have a freak storm once every 20 years, how do you model that? You know, if you have a ship, you can move it out of the way, but- - Yeah. - Seastead not so much. So it turns out to be, you know, it turns out to be quite hard. But what was, you know, it was sort of the small side project I started was Milton Friedman's grandson, Patrick Friedman, who pitched us on it in, I think it was 2007, 2008. And what was surprising to me was how much it caught fire as, you know, not as a technology, but just as a thought experiment. Because even if these seasteads are very hard to build, it was obvious that, that if we could redesign our society, if we could somehow start over, we would do it so differently.
And there are all these, there are all these legacy structures that are very hard to undo. May, I mean, don't necessarily want a total revolution, but there are all these ways that we're in a place that no one would, if you looked at it from first principles, no one would build a society like we have today. - So is there a way to do that, maybe just not doing it by building a structure in the ocean, like finding some land in the middle of the country and just trying it at sort of a micro level? - Yeah, well there's obviously, there's obviously no, there's obviously this sort of movement between different parts of the country that has been accelerated or restarted post COVID that I think is very important, very healthy. Yeah, and then there are, there's still all sorts of things you can do on a city county level. It's, you know, there were also reasons it was non-trivial. You know, there are a lot of, a lot of, a lot of cities are unusually dysfunctional, but they also are very powerful economic networks.
And so there's sort of a reason, you know, in a place like San Francisco, you know, I lived there for a long time. It was very dysfunctional on a governance side, but it was, you know, it was also in the middle of this gold rush tech boom. And then it actually, it wasn't that it was, that you had, you had this bad governance sort of in contradiction of the tech boom. It was almost like the bad governance came with a tech boom.
It was just like, people were fine paying this tax because they were doing so well. And so there sort of are, there are these natural network effects, these natural economies of scale that come with cities. But that also paradoxically, if you're not very careful, lead to extremely bad governance.
And so, you know, there are, you know, there are a lot of relatively unregulated states, but there aren't any people, not enough people there. So it's sort of, you know, there's a way that Alaska, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, they're all fairly unregulated. But to the extent that what we do as human beings has a social component, the sort of networked component, they could, you could never get the critical mass of people to move there to make it work. - Do you sense that the states will just continue to go their separate ways, that we'll just sort of see that and that will be a natural, that it'll actually kind of be okay as long as they agree not to go to war or something like that? - I think there's, I think there's some of it. It's, I wish there were more. - Yeah. - But, I think,
I think, I know, I think that that's probably what's still, you know, very healthy about the U.S. is that it's still somewhat of a Federalist system. There still is, you know, some degree to which the states are genuinely different places, and you have these 50 different experiments and you, it's not all about politics and voting. It's also about, you know, economics and exit. - What do you make about what's going on culturally in the country in terms of, you know, the Super Bowl? It was a couple weeks ago, I watched, like, I'm watching the commercials. They didn't feel, I didn't feel any attachment to any of the cultural references.
The halftime show, like as Breitbart said, you know, politics is downstream from culture. It seems like we don't have a culture that's unifying us in any way now. - Yeah, I, it's always so hard. It's always so hard to know exactly, exactly what's going on. It's probably, you know, if there was something that would be unifying, I don't know that we would like it that much.
Like it would be, it would be like a crazy woke religion. - Right. - And, you know, it's, I'm always hopeful that the insanity, you know, has crested and is receding.
And so, so yes. If we had something that would be unifying, it would be, it would be the woke religion on steroids, shove down everyone's throats. And, it's probably, you know, it's probably, the fact that it has this sort of not very strong slightly nihilistic feel may actually be, be relatively healthy. - Right, that's the white pill.
- It may be relatively healthy. - So in terms of better things for people to believe in, so you are, can I say teaching this course? Are you actually teaching this course at Stanford? What do you, what do you co- - I've co-taught, yeah- - Yeah. - Courses at Stanford occasionally over the years. It's always, yeah, a lot of work, but sort of fun process to think about things and- - Yeah, so what are you doing now? 'Cause obviously you don't need the gig, obviously.
You're doing this because you enjoy it. - We're just doing forbidden topics and this quarter we're doing political theology, which means basically what does politics tell us about God and what does God tell us about politics? And they're both these deeply transgressive, forbidden questions. I started, I'm starting to wonder if these questions of religion are, you know, somehow they are, I'm not saying they're necessarily the most important, but they're, they are the most transgressive.
They're the ones that somehow we can't ask at all. And there's something, there's something very generative in looking at that prism through, you know, through a lot of different lenses. You know, what is the religion in our society? What is it that people, what is that people value, and then, yeah, how does that work? - Yeah, so what would you say is the sort of broad answer to that? What is the religion of the people here from an American perspective right now, in a system that seems to be very obviously shaking to most people? - Again, it's always hard to do these sweeping generalizations, but it is, you know, it's in some sense, you know, it's in some sense, I think of it, I think of the woke liberal religion as a kind of antithesis, but also a kind of intensification of the Judeo-Christian tradition where, you know, both Judaism and Christianity look at it from the side of the victim. You know, the Jewish people are the victims in the Old Testament, you know, Pharaoh is the oppressor. You know, there's a way in which Christ is the victim in the New Testament.
And there's something that's very true and very powerful about this, you know, reorientation towards, towards the victim, towards, you know, justice against oppression. - Well that's interesting. So you think over the course of thousands of years, basically, the victim idea was just baked in. So wokeness is just an extension of that in some ways. - And then in some, in some weird way it went into, you know, hyper overdrive or, you know, and then there's always, you know, the Christian version's always, you know, it always ends up becoming this competitive thing where people try to be more Christian than the Christians. And so, you know, you know, you know, the poor shall inherit the earth, sermon on the mount, and then, you know, Tolstoy remarks the 19th century, it's no, we need to, you know, we need to actually intensify that, and we need to have a violent communist revolution and accelerate that process in this world.
And, and, and then I think, I think sort of a lot of, yeah, a lot of, a lot of the woke religion can be thought of this, as this incredible intensification of this. And of course, you know, there are all these paradoxes where people use their victim status as a stick with which to beat other people over the head. And so there's sort of all these, you know, all these, all these dynamics about it, it's obviously not particularly Christian in that, you know, you still have this, this great sense of historical injustice, but there's no forgiveness.
- Yeah, right, right. There's a lot of revenge there, yeah. - Yeah, it's sort, it's, but it's always this, it's always this revenge in the name of, you know, wronging injustice. - How do you find teaching a course at, or co-teaching a course at Stanford? I mean, you are one of the guys that said, hey, you don't have to go to college. As a matter of fact, my producer here, I was having dinner at your house once, and I was like, I really wanna hi