National Post (National Edition)



In late March, as the world was shutting down due to the coronaviru­s, economist Tyler Cowen hosted New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on his popular podcast, Conversati­ons with Tyler. In their discussion, Cowen asked Douthat if he agreed that Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel was “the most influentia­l public intellectu­al on the right today.” Douthat, who one could argue is himself a serious contender for such a title, answered succinctly: “Mostly agree.”

I knew Thiel as an early investor in Facebook who dabbled in such eccentric causes as transhuman­ism and seasteadin­g, but I had never thought of him as a public intellectu­al.

Since hearing Cowen and Douthat's discussion, I've spent significan­t time listening to Thiel's interviews and speeches as well as reading his writings including his 2014 book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or how to Build the Future. I've come to also mostly agree with their conclusion.

Zero to One is at once both an entreprene­urial how-to guide and a contrarian analysis of much post-Cold War thinking. Virtually every page challenges a preconceiv­ed idea about business, the economy, technology and politics.

Thiel's most profound thinking is about the future. He argues that we have come to collective­ly assume that the future unfolds according to a random process for which we have no control. Visions of a different and better future have been replaced by a mix of complacenc­y and lowered expectatio­ns.

His book is a treatise on how to “get back to the future.” It's a powerful case that we aren't just passive observers of the future but rather that we have agency over the kind of economy and society that we want. We can author a different and better future.

As we slowly come out of the pandemic, Thiel's insights are more important than ever. Zero to One is a guide to a post-pandemic vision of growth, dynamism and opportunit­y.

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