Big Idea: The End of The Future?


Peter Thiel (co-founder of Paypal, investor in Facebook, after tax billionaire) is a very interesting guy. 

I have great respect for his views on free market economics and libertarianism, so when he is saying something, I listen very carefully.

Today I read (albeit a little late) his staggering essay in The National Review titled “The End of the Future”. It’s a must read.
Here are a few snippets (warning: spoilers below):

"We need science and technology to dig us out of our deep economic and financial hole, even though most of us cannot separate science from superstition or technology from magic. In our hearts and minds, we know that desperate optimism will not save us." "Indeed, how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change, evolutionary biology, and embryonic-stem-cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields?"

“We may embellish the 2011 Arab Spring as the hopeful by-product of the information age, but we should not downplay the primary role of runaway food prices and of the many desperate people who became more hungry than scared.”

“The single most important economic development in recent times has been the broad stagnation of real wages and incomes since 1973, the year when oil prices quadrupled. “”The give-and-take of Western democracies depends on the idea that we can craft political solutions that enable most people to win most of the time. But in a world without growth, we can expect a loser for every winner. Many will suspect that the winners are involved in some sort of racket, so we can expect an increasingly nasty edge to our politics.”

“Men reached the moon in July 1969, and Woodstock began three weeks later. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this was when the hippies took over the country, and when the true cultural war over Progress was lost.”

Thiel’s concluding paragraph is brilliant:

"However that may be, after 40 years of wandering, it is not easy to find a path back to the future. If there is to be a future, we would do well to reflect about it more. The first and the hardest step is to see that we now find ourselves in a desert, and not in an enchanted forest."

Admittedly, this is pretty gloomy stuff. I’m not sure if I buy into Thiel’s hypothesis wholeheartedly, as the evidence he cites is often anecdotal.

While Thiel’s argument intrigues me, I still find myself in greater support for the much more positive technological theory of “Accelerating Returns”, advocated by serious scientists and futurists such as Ray Kurzweil.