David Graeber vs Peter Thiel: Where Did the Future Go?
The Baffler Magazine (2020)
This documentary is a very odd debate between billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel* and the late anarchist David Graeber. For me, the body language says it all. Thiel, who describes himself as a libertarian, is very tense and doesn’t smile once. .
The two of them debate the following three questions:
- What’s the matter with America?
- What does technology have to do with it? and
- What happened to the future?
Graeber starts, giving many examples of technological innovation (eg aeronautics, medicine, renewable energy) which entered slow stagnation after the 1970s. He blames this decline in innovation on the “financialization” of the global economy (ie corporations becoming more interested in selling financial products than manufactured goods).
In his view, the total domination of the global economy by mega monopolies obsessed with “rent extraction”** has left the world’s creative thinkers “out in the cold.”
Both men agree that the US political system can’t be reformed. However Thiel maintains that billionaire-financed start-ups are a better approach to reform than grassroots movements. He opposes direct democracy because systems that allow too many people input means you spend all your time talking and nothing happens.
He also disagrees with Graeber’s assertion that changing the way money is created (ie ending the creation of 98% of our money by private banks) could unleash creativity, by providing a means (eg Unconditional Basic Income) for artists, musicians and inventors to be paid for their work.
The best part of the debate is when the moderator asks Thiel about the role his company Pallantir plays in assisting the CIA, the military and JP Morgan in spying on Americans. Thiel maintains he’s facilitating in important work, namely because US intelligence failed to predict and prevent the 9-11 attacks.
Graeber blames the failure on the CIA and FBI becoming too preoccupied with spying on people like him.
*Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and surveillance software giant Palantir (which helps the NSA and CIA spy on us), was secretly granted New Zealand citizenship, despite failing to meet the 5-year residency requirement in 2011: Revealed How Peter Thiel Got New Zealand Citizenship
**Rent seeking and rent extraction describe a process that occurs when wealthy members of society seek to gain added wealth without any reciprocal contribution of productivity