Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Peter Thiel: Harvard Should Be Described as a Studio 54 Nightclub

Peter Thiel
Last week Wednesday, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel delivered the 2019 Wriston Lecture at the Manhattan Institute. It revealed a lot about him. Although he mentioned libertarianism in his speech several times, he has some kind of central planner instincts on a macro control level.

For example, he closed his speech by saying:

I think from the right, the sort of doctrine I would encourage us to rethink is the doctrine of American exceptionalism, which was, again, sort of a super big scale, but sort of put the US on a scale which simply could not be compared to any other country, any other place...exceptionalism is sort of like saying the US is this country that can't be measured, or compared, or evaluated in any way possible. And what happens - say you're exceptional in all these ways - is you probably end up being exceptionally off in different ways. You end up with subways that cost $3.8 billion a mile. You end up with people who are exceptionally overweight. You end up with people who are exceptionally unselfaware. And I think something like the corrective to exceptionalism is that perhaps in the 2020s the United States needs to settle for greatness.
He doesn't make clear whether he is using the term exceptionalism the way neoconservatives use the term and how it differs from his idea of "greatness" but there is, at least, the sense that some sort of national plan should be developed.

Nevertheless, he did make some interesting observations:
 [I]f we were to rightsize the scaling for our intellectual life, you should describe Harvard, not as one of the thousands of great universities, you should describe it as a Studio 54 nightclub. It's this tournament. It's probably good for the self-esteem and bad for the morals of the people who go there, and maybe call it a wash. Probably not a criminal thing, doesn't need to be shut down but probably does not deserve a—probably does not deserve a tax deduction.
(RW note: I would leave the tax deduction for Harvard and also give it to Studio 54) 

And this from the speech:
Everything from the progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, the New Dealers after World War II setting up the global institutions from which they'd run the planet from Washington DC. And there was sort of a sense that the US was at scale and should always operate on an even bigger scale and should be leading this sort of world revolution, not always a libertarian one. I was reminded of the joke, why is the United States the only country in the world where revolution is impossible? Answer, because it's the only country that doesn't have an American Embassy.


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