Gordon Campbell on Peter Thiel’s bad attitude problem

So far, we haven’t been able to find what Peter Thiel may have said about us on Trip Advisor, after those four lightning trips he made here, totalling 12 days in all – but I’m sure he liked us. Really liked us. Funny though that our alleged ‘ambassador’ never told anyone else that he’d been handed out citizenship by our government, as if it were a free pass to Disneyland. So far, Thiel has used that free citizenship pass to buy up luxury homes and hundreds of acres of scenic real estate here, but this scooping up of prime property seems to have been the only “ investment” he’d made here, beyond that notorious sweetheart deal in Xero shares that netted him $23 million, while this country’s venture capital fund barely broke even. Details here:

The play appears to have left Thiel with an investment worth least $30 million after contributing just under $7m. The NZVIF, by contrast, confirmed in a statement to the Weekend Herald that it received just $10.2 million after having earlier contributed $9m.

There’s another hitherto un-noted aspect of the Thiel episode. No-one in government seems to have done due diligence on Thiel’s business values to see if he would be a good fit for our corporate environment. Instead, we welcomed in a shark and expected it to act like a dolphin. Here’s a good example: Peter Thiel’s oft-stated attitudes to monopoly power seem totally out of whack with the competition law of this country, given that the Commerce Commission is tasked with ensuring that the kind of market concentration that Thiel advocates as a good thing, doesn’t actually eventuate here. Have a look at these quotes by Thiel, and see if you can square them with any reasonable concept of anti-trust competition law:

“All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.”
Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

“Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.”
Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

“Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina by observing: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Business is the opposite. All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.”
Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future

“Customers won’t care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way. And if you can’t monopolize a unique solution for a small market, you’ll be stuck with vicious competition.”
Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

“CREATIVE MONOPOLY means new products that benefit everybody and sustainable profits for the creator. Competition means no profits for anybody, no meaningful differentiation, and a struggle for survival.”
Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

“Americans mythologize competition and credit it with saving us from socialist bread lines. Actually, capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition all profits get competed away.”
Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

“In business, money is either an important thing or it is everything. Monopolists can afford to think about things other than making money; non-monopolists can’t.”
Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

“The administration of President Donald Trump [is] seemingly committed to a winner-takes-all economic model. That spirit is perhaps summed up by Peter Thiel, the tech investor, who declared that: “Competition is for losers.”
Financial Times, May 30, 2017.

You get the picture. Thiel is just not that into the free market or competition or the level playing field. Instead, he’s into the achieving and wielding of monopoly power. So when the Commerce Commission recently rejected the Fairfax/NZME merger because the merger would deliver a 90 % dominance of the media/online advertising markets here, Thiel would probably be arguing that even that level of market control wasn’t sufficient. Thiel’s attitudes aren’t even consistent with the 1980s neo-liberalism that our captains of industry still profess to believe in, let alone with any notion of social egalitarianism. Would Thiel be a good fit for Kiwi social attitudes? Hardly. He doesn’t play well with anyone and he’s proud of it. That’s part of his libertarian schtick:

“For Hamlet, greatness means willingness to fight for reasons as thin as an eggshell: anyone would fight for things that matter; true heroes take their personal honour so seriously they will fight for things that don’t matter.”

Question being. Why then did the government welcome in someone with such anti-social, anti-competitive attitudes? It’s easier to see why he likes us. Its because we give him what he wants without any regulatory struggle beforehand, and we don’t answer questions about it afterwards:

The New Zealand Herald asked [former Immigration Minister] Nathan Guy about why Thiel has kept his New Zealand citizenship a secret until it was revealed after a fluke inquiry into a land purchase. Thiel bought 477 acres of land in New Zealand in 2015, which was only recently investigated by reporters because of its protected status. “I don’t know indeed why he’s kept it secret,” Guy told the Herald. “I can’t answer that, that’s something you’d need to get from Peter Thiel.”

Par for the course. The only good words about New Zealand that’s been spread by the likes of Thiel among his Silicon Valley mates is that we’re a willing bolt-hole for the American super-rich escaping from the threat of nuclear Armageddon, and from the rising tide of income inequality. The current government has been happy to cast New Zealand as the enabler of such desires. Its entirely one way traffic, in that there’s no new wealth generation or productive investment involved here. We have a track record of acting starstruck in the presence of celebrity, as John Key was when he changed our labour laws to satisfy the needs of Warners. Thiel has been more of the same. In this rock star economy, we’ve all been cast as groupies.

RNZ in flux

Thank goodness that RNZ is spreading its key staff between Auckland and Wellington so that in the event of a national calamity in the capital – such as when we lose a rugby test at the stadium – full coverage of this tragedy can continue to lead the news bulletins, thereby ensuring the hard questions are still being asked 36 hours later. Such as, did Sonny Bill cost us the match?

And if anyone at RNZ doesn’t like these news priorities, then RNZ board chairman Richard Griffin seems happy to show them the door, and tell them they’re free to go work somewhere else.

In reality, the people currently being thrown overboard at RNZ are among those who built the state broadcaster’s reputation for news integrity, which is the foundation on which its current success has been built. Reportedly, this foundation is now at risk. That’s the problem with the hero culture in business: management will see themselves as the overlords of their domain, rather than its stewards. In this employment climate, you’re either with us, or with the terrorists.

Bad Liars etc

Talking of wilful untruths… hanging out for a new Selena Gomez release isn’t usually a priority. But her new single “Bad Liar” welds the killer bassline from “Psycho Killer” to a song about self doubt and lust, and the production makes a likeable virtue out of her vocal limitations. Call this a way of learning to live with anxiety… which makes it classic RNZ pop, in the zeitgeist of the moment.

And speaking of good/bad intentions from 40 years ago, here’s the only Youtube link to the original version of the Kendalls irresistible 1977 country hit: