My Application for Peter Thiel

Via Twitter, I see that one of the questions Peter Thiel asks applicants to his fellowship program (which unlike some of his philanthropic endeavors sounds to me like a totally good idea) is “Tell us one thing about the world that you strongly believe is true, but that most people think is not true.”

Since I’m not eligible for a fellowship for people under the age of twenty, I’ll offer my honest answer which is that guys like Peter Thiel are much more commonly reckless gamblers who got lucky making bad bets than they are brilliant visionaries who can peer into the future and see the best ideas.

In other words, if a thousand guys walk into a casino and all put $1 million down on different numbers on the roulette wheel, then the guys who win all make a second bet, someone will probably walk out of the casino with a billion dollars and an air of smug self-satisfaction. He’ll rapidly be surrounded by flatterers and possibly spend the rest of his life talking about how seasteading is humanity’s only hope to achieve real freedom.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the recognition that successful capitalists mostly succeed thanks to good luck and willingness to run unwise risks is actually integral to the case for capitalism as an economic system. If it were otherwise, then we could just recruit Peter Thiel, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Pete Peterson, Charles & David Koch, and George Soros to run the Central Planning Committee. After all, those guys are smarter than the rest of us so it makes sense to put them in charge of allocating almost all the capital in the country and not just the puny share they’re able to obtain personally. In the real world, that’d be a disaster. There are a bunch of reasons for that, but that fact that a healthy fraction of the super-rich aren’t nearly as smart as their flatterers think they are is on the list.