Who are you?

Question: Who are you?

Peter Thiel: Peter Thiel. I am the President of Clarion Capital Management.  I was the Co-Founder and CEO of PayPal.

It was basically a very middle class family.  My dad moved to the U.S. to get a masters degree in engineering.  We lived in Cleveland, Ohio for a number of years.  We lived in Africa for a few years and then moved out to California when I was about in fifth grade.  So I ended up going to about seven different elementary schools, which was perhaps the most distinctive aspect of my childhood. 

My parents were very focused on the value of getting a good education.  And so it was really a super-academically focused childhood growing up all the way through.

Probably my favorite author at the time was J.R.R. Tolkien.  I was really into science fiction, and Tolkien certainly influenced me in a lot of ways. 

I was a big chess player, and so was very much into that in junior high school and high school.

It’s always hard to sort of reconstruct these kinds of things. 

Certainly it was probably a generally libertarian, free market oriented already in high school, and thought that that sort of approach works better. 

It seemed at the time like it was the height of the Cold War.  But in retrospect it was the end of the Cold War.  And I thought that communism seemed like a very dangerous and very bad thing because once you lost freedom you could never regain it.  And there was sort of this aspect to it that seemed very apocalyptic to me. If it went wrong, it could go catastrophically wrong in sort of an unalterably bad way. 

I always felt there was a very keen sense to be aware of how big the stakes in some of these things were. 

As I went to Stanford I started sort of an alternative, independent student newspaper there – a conservative libertarian newspaper.  And that, of course, the process of doing a lot of writing and thinking about a lot of the contemporary issues in the mid to late ‘80s really sharpened the thinking a great deal.

At the time, of course, it seemed that there was something that had gone very badly wrong in the university context where you had these speech codes; you had sort of a diversity, which meant that people looked different but thought alike.  There’s this whole sort of politically; the whole political correctness phenomenon I think really peaked in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.  And I think obviously it’s an exaggeration to describe it like a Stalinist or totalitarian thing because nobody is being killed or anything like that.  But I think definitely it’s perhaps a very deadly thing, nevertheless, in an intellectual academic setting.  And I think it’s something that needed to be resisted a great deal. 

My sense is that things have gotten somewhat better.  In some ways I think some of the problems are still very much there.  So many things are very, very difficult to fix.

Recorded on: Sep 05, 2007

The co-founder and CEO of PayPal, Thiel is currently the President of Clarium Capital Management.

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