Why Peter Thiel is a Libertarian

Topic: Libertarianism

Peter Thiel: I would still describe myself as a fairly staunch libertarian; sort of meaning that I’m very much in favor of free market economics; probably quite a bit more liberal on most of the social issues.

I believe basically that individual freedom is very important, and that we live in a world in the 21st century where there will either be a lot more or a lot less. And that the politics matter and ideas matter because the choices people make will be of decisive importance in determining how the 21st century is gonna shape up. 

The 20th century was sort of a great and the terrible century at the same time.  And I think the 21st has every indication of being far greater and far more terrible.

Question: Why is individual freedom so important to you?

Peter Thiel: Well I think the alternative is just very ugly.  And I think the alternative to it is something where, in a lot of contexts, people’s personalities get distorted.  Their views get stifled.  In an economic context, prosperity gets destroyed, which may not seem to be all that important to people, but I think in the long run, does matter a tremendous amount. 

The extreme opposite to it is the incredibly violent sort of totalitarianism that we’ve seen in the 20th century, in all different forms that it’s taken.  And that seems to me very, very undesirable. 

And I do see them as being different ends of the spectrum, and that to some extent we always need to preserve and fight for individual freedom. There are a lot of people who have a lot of freedom.  And in a lot of ways we’re not an entirely free country.  And people tend not to be fully aware of the ways in which it is both very special and very free, as well as the ways in which it is not.  And people tend to just be very complacent and accept whatever the status quo is as more or less what the world’s going to be like, plus or minus two percent or whatever.  And I think the range of possibilities is just much greater.

Question: Where don’t Americans exercise their freedom?

Peter Thiel: There certainly are many dimensions to it.  The university setting is one where I think a lot of important ideas are never even discussed.  So it’s not that, once you have a discussion you hear both sides.  It’s that you do not even have a discussion.  And so there are topics, questions, debates that are not being had.  You could probably come up with an endlessly long list of those.  But it’s not entirely obvious what it is that’s not being discussed that maybe is very important. 

One of my standard complaints in the public policy sphere is that we have a semi-socialist healthcare system which I think is extraordinarily broken.  And people don’t realize just how bad it is and how people get these sort of very perfunctory checkups from doctors who aren’t really getting paid anymore. 

The tort law system has further constrained freedom.  We can’t experiment with new drugs and new treatments for ill patients.  And so I think the sort of the counter-factual world where things could be vastly better; but it requires one to have a bit of imagination to see that.

Recorded on: Sep 05, 2007

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel defends free markets and social liberalism.

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