Unless you’ve been in a cave over the past week, you’ve probably learn a evaluation or some dialogue about The Contrarian, a brand new e book about billionaire investor Peter Thiel by longtime Bloomberg Businessweek options editor and tech reporter Max Chafkin.
It isn’t shocking. Thiel has grow to be an more and more highly effective determine within the U.S., and Chafkin is an engrossing storyteller who poured 15 years of reporting into the e book and who leaned on relationships with “hundreds of sources,” he writes in its acknowledgements.
To study extra, we talked with Chafkin final week in what proved to be a energetic dialogue that coated how a lot Thiel (who talked with Chafkin off the file) revealed of his private life; why the “Trump thing was partly ideological, but it was partly a trade — an insight that Trump was undervalued,” says Chafkin; and why Thiel’s beliefs are “extremely inconsistent,” in response to Chafkin’s reporting. We additionally mentioned Thiel’s relationship with Mark Zuckerberg, who accepted one of Facebook’s first checks from Thiel and who has been certain, for good and unhealthy, to Thiel since.
You can hear that 30-minute-long interview here. In the meantime, we’re pulling out a component of that dialog centering on Zuckerberg as a result of we discover Zuckerberg’s relationship with Thiel to be significantly fascinating and vital, given the impression of Facebook on American society and humankind extra broadly. We’ve edited this excerpt calmly for size.
TC: You speak about Thiel’s greatest and most vital wager actually being Facebook and recommend within the e book that he used his place as a board member since 2005 to steer Mark Zuckerberg to be extra permitting of an anything-goes kind stance, even misinformation. You additionally recommend there was friction between Thiel and Zuckerberg for a while, particularly as Thiel has come to embrace Trumpism. Do you anticipate that Thiel will be a Facebook board member for for much longer? Do you assume he has been sidelined in any means?
MC: There’s an anecdote within the e book: When Facebook went public, its inventory crashed and Thiel bought the inventory fairly shortly, however of course he stayed on the board [and in the book] I speak about this assembly they’d on the Facebook campus to sort of pump folks up, as a result of if you’re working in an organization and the inventory goes down, I perceive that it’s the world’s most miserable factor. Everybody day-after-day is dropping cash. The press is thrashing you up. They have been getting sued by firefighters and academics. It was simply an limitless parade of unhealthy information. So they’d all these audio system are available in to attempt to decide up the troops. And Peter Thiel gave a chat. And in the course of the speak, he stated, ‘My generation was promised flying cars. Instead we got Facebook.’ Normally he assaults Twitter [with that language]. He says, ‘We were promised flying cars, but we got 140 characters,’ however he made it Facebook on this case, and for those who’re sitting in a crowd, or for those who’re Mark Zuckerberg, it’s like, ‘Oh, so the longest-serving board member, mentor, guiding light of my business philosophy, just kind of got up there and told me I sucked.’
I do assume that Zuckerberg really sort of respects that about Peter, proper? When you’re Mark Zuckerberg, it’s very laborious to get sincere suggestions. No one’s gonna ever inform you that you simply suck besides perhaps Peter Thiel. But as you say, Thiel has actually sort of been tiptoeing as much as the road lots over the previous few years.
He has usually talked about tech monopoly and tech energy, and he singles out Google, which . . . perhaps takes the warmth off of Facebook, but it surely doesn’t it doesn’t assist that a lot, as a result of Facebook and Google are very related corporations and for those who’re going to manage one, you may conceivably regulate the opposite. I’m unsure Zuckerberg is thrilled with that.
Thiel has at numerous occasions embraced this type of proper wing activist venture in Silicon Valley. You have [conservative activist] James O’Keefe and others who’re intent on exposing what they see because the hypocrisy of of Facebook, Google, Apple — all the large tech corporations — and Thiel has subtly embraced these.
But he’s additionally more and more embracing them in public. Right now, Thiel has two candidates operating within the U.S. Senate races. They’re each operating in Republican primaries: Blake Masters in Arizona, and JD Vance in Ohio, and Thiel has donated ten million bucks to tremendous PACs supporting every of these candidates. These guys are consistently attacking Facebook, and never simply attacking Facebook on an mental stage or elevating questions. They’re making virtually private assaults towards Mark Zuckerberg. There’s a JD Vance advert [funded by Thiel], the place it’s these darkish tones, and it’s like, ‘There’s a contingent of elites on this nation who’re out of contact,’ and there it’s — there’s Mark Zuckerberg face.
There was one occasion [in 2017] the place Zuckerberg requested if Thiel thought he should resign, and Thiel didn’t and Zuckerberg didn’t fireplace him, so there has at the least been some stress. [As for whether] Thiel’s worth has diminished, that’s a extremely astute query as a result of with Biden in cost, with the Democrats in energy controlling the presidency and each homes of Congress, Thiel’s connection to the correct is much less worthwhile. That stated, there’s an excellent likelihood that Republicans will retake the Senate in 2022. And there’s an opportunity that that some of these Senators will be very, very near Peter Thiel, so that might drastically improve his worth.
TC: You point out within the e book that lots of people who find themselves near Thiel and admire him are additionally terrified of him. Despite the truth that Mark Zuckerberg might be essentially the most highly effective particular person on this planet, I ponder in case your sense of issues is that he’s scared of Thiel.
MC: I believe Zuckerberg might fireplace Thiel. I imply, Mark Zuckerberg is a formidable man. He’s value lots of cash. He might afford a warfare with Peter Thiel, and he might afford the backlash. But I believe there’s a query about whether or not he’d need to, as a result of proper now, the rationale Thiel is ready to get away with what he’s in a position to get away with, with respect to each serving on the board and being this public critic, has to do with the truth that there would be a worth to pay if Mark Zuckerberg fired him, and the worth would be it might be an enormous freaking story.
Thiel had been such an vital ally to Mark Zuckerberg in the course of the Trump presidency. There have been these operating memes in conservative circles that Facebook is systematically discriminating towards proper wing factors of view, [that it’s] a liberal firm staffed by liberal workers who hate Donald Trump, and that because of this, it’s placing its thumb on the dimensions and advancing the pursuits of the left. . . [But] Zuckerberg had an superior response to that, which is ‘Hey, I’ve obtained this board member. He’s not only a Republican. He’s not just a few sort of middle-of-the-road conservative like George Bush man or one thing. He is Peter Freaking Thiel. He’s the man who’s too loopy for Steve Bannon. He is a dyed-in-the-wool Trumpist.’ And that offers Facebook a extremely, actually highly effective argument.
When anyone like Josh Hawley, who has taken cash from Peter Thiel, or Ted Cruz, one other one who has taken cash from Peter Thiel, comes alongside and assaults Facebook . . . I believe if [Thiel] left, particularly if he was fired — if that was a narrative that got here out — it might be open season.
I don’t assume it’s an existential challenge for Mark Zuckerberg. But I believe it would be extra comfy to maintain his good friend and board member Peter Thiel, even though they may have some profound variations of opinion on the worth of Facebook.