Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel, libertarian/conservative co-founder of PayPal, says the government is the problem. (Photo: David Paul Morris, Bloomberg News)

Carla Marinucci
Updated 6:29 am, Saturday, February 22, 2014

Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and an increasingly active force in conservative and libertarian politics, says the country has a problem: It’s not embracing tech.

Worse, said Facebook’s original investor, it’s making the tech culture a whipping boy for its problems.

“I defy you” to name one science fiction film – with the possible exception of the “Star Trek” and “Back to the Future” series – “in which technology is not portrayed as destructive,” Thiel said at a packed fundraiser Thursday night for FWD.us, the immigration reform advocacy group co-founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“The tech industry is an easy scapegoat in this country,” Thiel said. “People are looking for an excuse to beat up on technology.”

Thiel was a hot ticket in a city where blockades of Google buses have come to symbolize civic unease over economic and social changes brought by an influx of wealthy tech workers. An overwhelmingly young, tech-savvy audience jammed the San Francisco headquarters of the Dropbox app to hear the entrepreneur who has defined the “liberty movement” of tech politics expound on his views regarding tech’s role in rebuilding the middle class.

In a lively debate with author Andrew McAfee, a director of the Center for Digital Business at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Thiel faulted globalization – and not tech – for a growing income equality divide.
Job creation shackled

In a country that has “leaned the least on globalization,” said the venture capitalist and hedge fund manager, “inequality and wealth has widened dramatically – to the point where you really wonder if we’re living in a stable society at all.”

Thiel argued that he and other entrepreneurs could create more jobs, but that the country – and even the Bay Area, for all its tech-friendliness – is shackling innovators.
Regulatory burden

“The regulatory burden is much higher, the court system is much more onerous … the zoning regulations are far more severe” in the U.S. than in places such as Western Europe, the German native said.

“There are ways in which I have a lot less freedom … with regard to what I do with my money,” Thiel said. “I’m largely restricted – from the (Food and Drug Administration) right down to the San Francisco zoning department.”

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