Tech icon frets Washington’s narrow goals

The U.S. government can’t do the same kind of big projects that it could 75 years ago, one of Silicon Valley’s most influential funders said on Wednesday.

At the Washington Ideas Forum, Peter Thiel — the co-founder of PayPal who has provided funding for Facebook, Yelp, SpaceX and other companies — bemoaned the country’s inability to take on big projects.


“Today, a letter from Einstein to the White House would get lost in the mailroom,” Thiel said. “There is a sense we could not do Apollo and, whatever you think of the Affordable Care Act, I would maintain that an Internet website is a demonstrably inferior and simpler and easier technology than building a rocket to send someone to the moon."

“There has been this really strange decline that we need to think about very hard,” added Thiel, who co-founded Palantir Technologies a decade ago.

Thiel is a noted libertarian and has donated thousands of dollars to Republican lawmakers’ campaign bank accounts.

“I’m skeptical of government being able to do these things, but not in an absolute sense,” he said. “I think our government was able to do them in the ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s in a way that it isn’t able to do it today.”

It’s not just government, though.

Innovation writ large has largely fallen off over the last four decades, Thiel maintained, as most of the major breakthroughs have happened in the world of computers, not in revolutionizing travel or the way humans live.

“I think we’ve had this narrow cone of progress,” he explained.