Peter Thiel is one of the giants of Silicon Valley. He is also one of the USA’s most controversial public figures, with a history of polemical comments. Thiel has a spectacular CV. After doing degrees in philosophy and then law at Stanford University, he worked in the stock market, founded his own investment company, and then co-founded PayPal, the revolutionary electronic online payment system. PayPal was acquired by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. Two years later, Thiel became Facebook’s first investor, buying 10 per cent of the company for $500,000. In 2012, he sold most of his shares for a billion dollars, and he left the board of its parent company Meta earlier this year.
A MAN OF STRONG OPINIONS
Thiel is a conservative libertarian with strong opinions, who once said that “hippies took over the country” in 1969. He thought that PayPal would help create a new world currency, free from government control. He has also supported the idea of ‘seasteading’, where floating islands in international waters would operate as libertarian paradises, free of government regulations. According to The Economist, Thiel has “pooh-poohed competition and celebrated the power of creative monopolists,” and “believes in the power of gifted entrepreneurs to change the world through the sheer force of will and intellect.”
OBSESSED WITH DEATH
The billionaire is also obsessed with getting old and dying. In 2006, he gave $3.5 million for research into the possibility of anti-ageing processes. He wants to be cryonically preserved, and has invested $100,000 in a research project to resurrect the wolly mammoth.
His most controversial opinions, however, are related to the fields of politics and democracy and the rights of women. In an article published in 2009, Thiel stated that he no longer believed that freedom and democracy were compatible. For him, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women had made the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into “an oxymoron.”
RIGHT WING MONEY
Thiel, one of Donald Trump’s biggest donors in 2016, is still a major financier of the Make America Great Again movement, and this year provided $20.4 million to get candidates on the far right of the Republican party into office.
a global network
Thiel’s reach today extends well beyond American borders. In 2004, he co-founded Palantir Technologies, a US software startup specialising in big data analytics. Taking its name from a magical omniscient orb that appeared in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Palantir grew into one of the most valuable companies in Silicon Valley, gaining lucrative contracts with the US Army, the CIA and other US government bodies, plus corporates such as JP Morgan. The secretive firm is now present in multiple European countries in sectors from health to policing, commerce to aviation and academia. Many people are worried that a company in which Thiel is the largest shareholder has access to vast amounts of our personal data.