Peter Thiel: Utopian elite flee for "Galt’s Gulch"

Peter Thiel, the tech tycoon who founded PayPal, has long been prepared for a flight from societal collapse. As coronavirus panic spreads, where is the enigmatic billionaire now?

While most of us are preparing to hunker down at home in response to coronavirus, some of the “one-percenters” are “self-quarantining” in more “dramatic and expensive fashion”, says Vanity Fair. Indeed, as The Sunday Telegraph points out, “many of the tech industry’s elite – led by PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel – have spent years preparing for the apocalypse with bunkers, secret retreats and action plans”. You might say “coronavirus is the moment Silicon Valley’s ‘preppers’ have been waiting for”. 

So where exactly is the enigmatic Thiel? The chances are that he may be headed for the southern hemisphere, says The Guardian. In 2016, another influential tech entrepreneur, Sam Altman, revealed an arrangement that, in the eventuality of some kind of “systemic collapse scenario”, they would both board a private jet and fly to a hideaway that Thiel bought in New Zealand in 2011. One of Thiel’s inspirations is Atlas Shrugged novelist Ayn Rand, whose hero, John Galt, retreats to Galt’s Gulch, a utopian community, in the face of societal collapse. The German-born venture capitalist has long considered New Zealand to be “the Future”.  

A great visionary… and cartoon villain

A conservative libertarian, and prominent backer of Donald Trump, Thiel, 52, has long split opinion. On the one hand he’s hailed as a great visionary: The Economist credits him with “one of the most interesting minds in American business”. On the other, he can come across as “a caricature of outsized villainy”, says The Guardian. Known for his “public musings about the incompatibility of freedom and democracy”, a spiteful side emerged in 2016 when he “vengefully” helped bankrupt Gawker, a scurrilous gossip website that had outed him as gay in 2007. Over the years, Thiel’s futuristic utopianism has seen him back everything from “sea-steading” (the concept of creating permanent settlements at sea) to the singularity (the merging of humans and AI technology).  

Born in Frankfurt in 1967, Thiel’s love of sci-fi and fantasy fiction began early: as a child he played Dungeons & Dragons and he read Tolkien. But he was also a disciplined ideas-man who became a US chess master at 21. After studying philosophy at Stanford, where he co-founded “The Stanford Review” to counter the university’s perceived “political correctness”, Thiel hit Wall Street.

But by 1996, he had tired of selling derivatives for Credit Suisse and returned to California in search of more meaningful work. Thiel quickly became enthused by the nascent internet movement and, with financial support from his family, launched his first venture-capital company. In 1998, he struck gold when he realised he could solve a problem in making online payments – and the basis of his estimated $2.3bn fortune, PayPal, was born. A timely investment in Facebook did the rest. 

Some odd moves

Thiel’s career has been “evolving in an odd direction” of late, notes The Economist. He has largely turned his back on the denizens of Silicon Valley. In 2018, he relocated to Los Angeles, claiming that the Valley felt like a “one-party state”, says Forbes. Last year, he accused Google of being “seemingly treasonous” because of its investments in China. While outspoken in his opinions, Thiel keeps his private life so tightly closed that no one knows for certain if he has a private jet, says HuffPost. Still, he’s a dedicated survivor and it will be interesting to see where he turns up next. 

Recommended

Profile of Kwasi Kwarteng, the leading light of the Tory right
People

Profile of Kwasi Kwarteng, the leading light of the Tory right

Kwasi Kwarteng, who studied 17th-century currency policy for his doctoral thesis, has always had a keen interest in economic crises. Now he is in one …
10 Oct 2022
Yvon Chouinard: The billionaire “dirtbag” who's giving it all away
People

Yvon Chouinard: The billionaire “dirtbag” who's giving it all away

Outdoor-equipment retailer Yvon Chouinard is the latest in a line of rich benefactors to shun personal aggrandisement in favour of worthy causes.
6 Oct 2022
Johann Rupert: the Warren Buffett of luxury goods
People

Johann Rupert: the Warren Buffett of luxury goods

Johann Rupert, the presiding boss of Swiss luxury group Richemont, has seen off a challenge to his authority by a hedge fund. But his trials are not o…
26 Sep 2022
Profile: the fall of Alvin Chau, Macau’s junket king
People

Profile: the fall of Alvin Chau, Macau’s junket king

Alvin Chau made a fortune catering for Chinese gamblers as the authorities turned a blind eye. Now he’s on trial for illegal cross-border gambling, fr…
20 Sep 2022

Most Popular

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?
Personal finance

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?

The weather is getting colder and energy bills are rising, but is it really cheaper to leave the heating on low all day or should you only turn it on …
1 Dec 2022
Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?

We compare the costs, pros and cons of radiators and electric heaters and see which one will help keep your energy bill as low as possible.
28 Nov 2022
The pros and cons of smart meters – should you switch?
Personal finance

The pros and cons of smart meters – should you switch?

A smart meter can help you keep tabs on your energy usage, but is it better than a regular meter? We take a look at smart meters vs regular meters.
2 Dec 2022