In an interview with Wired, Peter Thiel — the former PayPal CEO, early Facebook investor, and Clarium Capital hedge fund manager — says the Internet may now be a place that’s “culturualy important,” but he says it’s also “a maturing industry” — one that won’t save us from returing to the dark ages.Wired: We’ve had tremendous growth in the Internet, which is how you made your fortune. Why not look there?
Thiel: Obviously we’ve done well online. But how much more progress is there going to be? How many big new Internet companies are there? In the ’90s we had Netscape, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon. In the past eight years there have been only two: Google and Facebook.
Thiel: Possibly. Still, the numbers suggest a maturing industry. The Internet may be culturally important, just as the automobile was culturally more important in the ’50s than the ’20s, as we got suburbia and built the Interstate Highway System. But the last successful car company started in the US was Jeep in 1941.
Peter says that if we don’t turn the focus of our innovation onto something new — “let’s just go back to the science fiction novels of the 1950s and ’60s and try to run the past 40 years again” — we’re liable to end up with an economy more like Rome’s during its fall or Europe’s during the dark ages.
Thiel: People take it for granted that their retirement funds can earn 8.5 per cent a year. That’s what their financial planners tell them. And sure, you look back over the past 100 years, the stock market has generally gone up 6 to 8 per cent a year. But in a larger historical perspective, that kind of growth is exceptional. If you had done the equivalent of investing in the stock market from, say, 1000 to 1100 AD, you would not have made 8 per cent a year. During the fall of the Roman Empire, you’d have been lucky to get zero. We’ve been living in a unique period of accelerating technological progress. We’ve gone from horses to cars to planes to rockets to computers to the Internet in a very short time. It’s not automatic that that continues.
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