Thiel Country

Capitalism, monopoly, globalisation, and competition. Not words I expected to find in the business self help section.

I should know. The first book I remember read was Harry Potter. The second was Rich Dad Poor Dad. To teach me to save, my dad bought me The Richest Man in Babylon. I would repay him years later by asking for a five-figure loan. On long car trips we listened to John Maxwell, not John Lennon.

To refresh my memory while writing this post, I googled one of the Gospels of my childhood, Think and Grow Rich. The fourth or fifth hit was a blog called “eventualmillionare.” I remembered why I dislike the genre.

I was surprised then by how much I enjoyed Zero to One. Peter Thiel’s book is part handbook for founders, part treatise on contemporary capitalism. I am several years late to the party, but by all accounts the book is still popular and influential; an entire sub-genre of productivity blogs is devoted to summarizing it:

I am less interested in his specific arguments than the way he made them. The magic of the book is how it repurposes academic concepts for a lay audience. He presents a new theory of the firm (monopolistic), globalization (technology copying- doomed to plateau), and secular stagnation (a loss of optimism). In one chapter he calls for the kind of state planning out of vogue since the 60s. With Macron reestablishing the office of le plan, Peter Thiel looks positively prophetic.

An academic might be frustrated by how he offhandedly locates the failure of visionary politics in Medicare, Social Security, and a dizzying array of other transfer payment programs. I would agree, but to quibble there would be to miss the beauty and opportunity of his book: making academic ideas accessible. Constructivism was reserved for obscure academic journals until Yuval Noah Harari made it the logic of his best-seller Sapiens. Thiel’s willingness to deal in big questions – what is capitalism? – makes his book is as interesting as his responses are compelling (sometimes).

The basic point is that there are lots of sophisticated and interesting ideas from academia that deserve a wider audience.

At the very least, as a leader of contemporary capitalism, his vision for its future is worth noting, for fans and critics alike.

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