The latest "Conversations With Bill Kristol" is an interview with Paypal founder Peter Thiel. Among the highlights is this passage from Mr. Thiel:
I definitely like founder more than entrepreneur. I think entrepreneur has – it's a bit of an over-used term. So it's a – I had a conversation with a friend a number of years ago and asked him, "What do you really want to be doing in 5 or 10 years?" And "It's very clear, I want to be entrepreneur."
And so it has sort of the same quality as "I want to rich, I want to be famous." And I think a better mindset for these businesses is that there are some very important problems that you're trying to solve. And it turns out that a new business is a form in which you solve that problem. You could also solve it perhaps in a large corporation, if it's not too dysfunctional, you could solve it in a government context, in a nonprofit context. But that it's driven by important problems you're trying to solve, rather than, say, having a line item on your résumé that says entrepreneur.
in the last decade in Silicon Valley, 2002 to 2008, there were basically two major things one did as a venture capitalist: you invested in the next generation of Internet companies or you invested in clean tech. And the next-generation Internet companies generally worked pretty well. Clean tech was sort of an unmitigated disaster. And the critical question was, how could you have figured this out early?
And the sort of the scientific, natural, metaphysical type of approach would have been to evaluate every single clean technology on its merits and then you have to figure out, were people lying about it, were they distorting the results, how far were things off? And one could have done that, but it would have been, would have been extremely hard to figure this out.
The political approach was to realize that there were sort of a set of intensely held conventions that people could not question. There was – and there was something – you know, there were sort of things around it involving social status, it seemed cool for people to be involved in this, and they were not that interested in whether it made any sense. And that's sort of – that's sort of why clean tech was not just an initial set of bad investments but why maybe ten times as much good money was thrown after bad in the 2005-2008 period.
I think there is something quite toxic about the whole contractor subculture in DC where people have incentives to sort of bill by the hour, to have projects that take really long and are sort of overly complex so that nobody really has responsibility.
I'm sort of more on the libertarian side politically. I'm generally skeptical of government ability to do things. But even I was shocked that something like the Obamacare website couldn't work. You know this is not the Manhattan Project. And so there has been – I think there has been some decline in the government's ability to do these things. And I suspect – I suspect it has a lot to do with very – with bureaucratic incentives that are extremely – extremely misaligned.
One of my friends has characterized the university system as the atheist church, which is sort of a successor to the Catholic Church, it's sort of universal. And that the university system in 2014, it's like the Catholic Church circa 1514. There's less diversity, so you have the Dominicans and Franciscans and all these different orders, whereas the diversity between say the Harvard and Stanford political science department is considerably less. But it is sort you have this priestly class of professors that doesn't do very much work, people are buying indulgences in the form of amassing enormous debt for the sort of the secular salvation that a diploma represents.
And what I think is very similar to the 16th century is that the Reformation will come largely from outside.
The whole education section, which starts on page 19 of the PDF transcript, is worth a read. The whole conversation is also available on video if you prefer that.