Peter Thiel Vs. Eric Schmidt

Posted Jul 17, 2012

Peter Thiel and Eric Schmidt faced off at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference. Some of the debates they had were about whether technology improved our lives in the last 30 years and about the government’s role in the Arab Spring. According to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, technology has played a positive role and helped lift around 2 billion out of poverty while spreading vital information from a small number to the masses across the world. He said that he believes people in the developed world can expect to have “extraordinarily long lives that are very productive.” He also said that the world gets better too. Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, responded by saying “I think you do a fantastic job as Google’s minister of propaganda.” Oh snap!

The two debated at a dinner conversation at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado. Thiel argued that over the past 30 years, wages have stagnated and we suffered from a “catastrophic failure of energy innovation.” He added that progress in narrow areas of technology has not been translated into general wellbeing. Then he compared the last 30 years with the prior 40 during a time when wages shot up and innovations in cars, aeronautics, supersonic jets, and computers directly translated into the improvements in people’s lives.

When the topic turned to the Arab Spring, Thiel said that he believed it was caused by rising food prices caused by our inability to sustain gains in food production from the green revolution. Schmidt said that food prices have risen, but the Arab Spring happened because of food policies by governments. He also said that the Arab Spring was largely by the result of being fed up with oppressive regimes. They both agreed that social media played a marginal role in the uprisings. Schmidt said that the governments are burdened by entitlement programs that are unsustainable giving the aging population. However Thiel denied that there was a demographic problem. The two agreed that the government was broken.

Thiel criticized the rising costs of higher education. He said that universities have burdened students with tremendous amounts of debt and have not given graduates significant earnings potential. “The debts being imposed on people linked to education are turning and an entire generation into something close to indentured servants,” said Thiel. He said that higher education is in an “education bubble.”

“Through that logic, fewer people would get educated,” said Schmidt in a closing argument. “The only way to maintain competitiveness is to get more education.” The crowd applauded Schmidt’s last line.