Peter Thiel is one of the giants of Silicon Valley. He is also one of the USA’s most controversial public figures, with a history of polemical comments. Thiel has a spectacular CV. After doing degrees in philosophy and then law at Stanford University, he worked in the stock market, founded his own investment company, and then co-founded PayPal, the revolutionary electronic online payment system. PayPal was acquired by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Two years later, Thiel became Facebook’s first investor, buying 10 per cent of the company for $500,000. In 2012, he sold most of his shares for a billion dollars, and he left the board of its parent company Meta earlier this year.
A MAN OF STRONG OPINIONS
Thiel is a conservative libertarian with strong opinions, who once said that “hippies took over the country” in 1969. He thought that PayPal would help create a new world currency, free from government control. He has also supported the idea of ‘seasteading’, where floating islands in international waters would operate as libertarian paradises, free of government regulations. According to The Economist, Thiel has “pooh-poohed competition and celebrated the power of creative monopolists,” and “believes in the power of gifted entrepreneurs to change the world through the sheer force of will and intellect.”
OBSESSED WITH DEATH
The billionaire is also obsessed with getting old and dying. In 2006, he gave $3.5 million for research into the possibility of anti-ageing processes. He wants to be cryonically preserved, and has invested $100,000 in a research project to resurrect the wolly mammoth.
His most controversial opinions, however, are related to the fields of politics and democracy and the rights of women. In an article published in 2009, Thiel stated that he no longer believed that freedom and democracy were compatible. For him, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women had made the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into “an oxymoron.”
Last year, Thiel shocked Silicon Valley by announcing his support for Donald Trump as a presidential candidate at the Republican Party Convention – just after saying to the highly conservative audience that he was “proud to be gay.” Trump is not popular in the Valley. After Trump’s victory, Thiel joined his transition team. Now he is advising Trump on technology questions. What is the attraction here for Thiel? The billionaire once said: “The great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms.” He also said, when announcing his support for Trump: “I’m not a politician. But neither is Trump.”