It’s a common refrain that’s become pervasive within Silicon Valley circles: The government has failed us, and the only way for society to move forward is for the coders who inhabit the Bay Area to liberate us via mobile apps. Such is the attitude of King Techno Libertarian Peter Thiel, who laments a world that has no robot maids or cures for cancer:
Thiel’s thesis: if change is going to happen on medical research, on climate change, or on getting a man to Mars, it will come from outside of large institutions.
Such world views ignore the enormous body of evidence that many of mankind’s largest innovations have come at the behest of large institutions. Look at the technologies made possible through NASA research or how DARPA enabled the creation of the internet. Thiel complains about the lack of cancer cures, but we’ve made vast strides just in the last few decades in prolonging the lives of cancer patients, and much of that success can be laid at the feet of the NIH, which contributes $60 billion in research funding a year. Thiel doesn’t explain how venture capitalism will amass and distribute this level of funding when there’s little short-term profit potential.
Thiel also doesn’t acknowledge how the need for bureaucracy grows as your deal with larger and larger populations made up of individuals who pursue their personal short-term goals often at the expense of the betterment of everyone. It’s not clear that a piece of technology can supplant the need for restaurant health inspections, nor can it single-handedly disincentivize companies from wantonly spewing carbon into the atmosphere.
To believe that we can solve the world’s problems by dispelling government is to rely on anecdotal evidence while enclosing yourself in a bubble of delusional self-importance. We will not cure cancer by simply handing over the reigns to people who build photo sharing apps.