Election 2016

Sorry, Peter Thiel, but We Don't Need a Manhattan Project for Everyday Life

The visionary tech billionaire is right that government is dysfunctional but wrong about its core responsibilities.

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Dan Taylor, Flickr/Wikimedia

Peter Thiel's speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland was the highlight of that generally misbegotten event (when Scott Baio is your celebrity, you've got real problems).

Speaking on the same evening as Donald Trump, the tech billionaire, legendary venture capitalist, and hero and villain to journalists everywhere may well have pushed the GOP into a post-culture-war era by declaring, "I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American." In the same speech, he attacked stupid wars (waged by both both Republicans and Democrats this century) and called for grand, new government-funded projects that would, to borrow a phrase from Trump himself, make America great again.

In today's Washington Post, Thiel is at it again. He's always worth listening to, even though there is, I think, a major mistake in his analysis and rhetoric about the role and function of government in creating an innovative, forward-looking, and more prosperous society. Here's his opening:

Our government used to get things done. The Manhattan Project coordinated the work of more than 130,000 people in over a dozen states. It was difficult, unprecedented — and successful. Less than four years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the go-ahead, the United States detonated the world's first atomic bomb.

Today our government finds it hard just to make a website. Our newest fighter jet has already been under development for more than 15 years and it costs more than 15 times as much as the Manhattan Project (adjusted for inflation), but last year it lost a dogfight to a plane from the 1970s.

Similar dysfunction is everywhere, at every level. One of the most dramatic examples is in the nation's capital: Metro was a marvel when it opened in 1976, and today it's an embarrassing safety hazard. Ticket machines don't work; escalators are broken; the trains sometimes don't even stay on the tracks.

Let's pause over this strange progression for a moment. In three short paragraphs, Thiel goes from the single-most concentrated military-research project in human history—launched in 1942, when the outcome of the planet's most-total war was still in doubt and the federal government controlled virtually every aspect of commercial civilian life—to talking about the pathetic excuse for a subway system in the nation's capital (a topic that Reason covers with appalling regularity).

Simply put, the Manhattan Project—or for that matter, the Apollo mission, another of Thiel's go-to examples for the once-greatness of American government—is not relevant to the everyday functioning of government. Nor should it be. There is a vast, unbridgeable gulf between true existential crises such as World War II and creating a viable, public transit system and it only confuses the proper size, scope, and spending of government by speaking of the two things in the same breath. You want to fix problems with urban mass transit not just in DC but everywhere else? Here you go, with very little public money and no tax dollars for research. The warfare state is not a useful metaphor for the peacetime state.

None of this is to give a pass to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) which is a useful shorthand not for how government fails at moon shots but how it wastes tons of money on useless exercises in nostalgia and avoidable payouts for passenger-injury claims. But Thiel, who to his immense credit is funding longevity research as well as seasteading and a million other projects out of his own pocket, paints a romantic picture using unrestrained government as his brush. Is that what 21st century America needs more of? A government that has slipped the surly bonds of the Constitution more than it already has to print money indiscriminately, run up massive amounts of debt (as it did, for understandable reasons, during World War II), issue ration coupons on every commodity and scarce resource?

Certainly not. In fact, what we have witnessed for the entirety of the 21st century is a government—and two parties, in pretty much equal measure—that uses the language and rhetoric of existential crisis to do whatever the hell it wants. The Axis powers dominating the entire globe and declaring war on the United States was an existential threat in a way that al Qaeda, ISIS, and the broader concept of "Islamic terrorism" simply is not. As V.S. Naipaul wrote after the 9/11 attacks, "The idea of [the terrorists'] strength is an illusion. The terrorists can fly a plane, but what they can't do is build a plane. What they can't do is build those towers." Health-insurance coverage, recessions (even "Great" ones), China, Russia, unemployment, automation, immigration, synthetic drugs, gang violence, the homosexual "agenda," godlessness, godfulness, you name it: None of these is an existential threat. Yet we live in an age of never-ceasing crises that only the government can solve! Conservatives and Republicans have their long-and-growing list of crises, and liberals and Democrats have their list. FFS, we even regularly go through paroxysms of fear that obesity is a major "national security threat" (this isn't a new concern, by the way, as the St. JFK ploughed the same fertile ground back in the early '60s).

In the 2016 election, what we might call "existential-crisis arbitrage" is at a fever pitch. Hillary Clinton's main attraction is that she is not Donald Trump. Trump, Thiel's own candidate, has built his candidacy on the phantom menace of rapist/drug-carrying/plague-carrying Mexican immigrants, whose peak occurred around 2007 (thank you, Great Recession!). Trump is nothing if not a male hysteric, flipping out about a national crime wave that exists only in his head.

Thiel continues,

Today we live in a financial age: The right is obsessed with tax cuts, and the left is obsessed with funding increases. Republicans joke about the incompetence of government to please wealthy donors who don't want to pay for it; Democrats enable incompetence because they are beholden to public-sector unions that expect their members to get paid whether or not they do the job….

Lost between the two extremes is the vast majority of citizens' common-sense expectation that the country's transportation, health care and defense systems should actually work. As a result of both parties ignoring competence while they fight over money, today we have the broken D.C. Metro system, the hobbled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and justified public skepticism of government health care.

The establishment doesn't want to admit it, but Trump's heretical denial of Republican dogma about government incapacity is exactly what we need to move the party — and the country — in a new direction. For the Republican Party to be a credible alternative to the Democrats' enabling, it must stand for effective government, not for giving up on government.

I believe that effective government will require less bureaucracy and less rulemaking; we may need to have fewer public servants, and we might need to pay some of them more. At a minimum, we should recognize that success cannot be reduced to the overall size of the budget: Spending money and solving problems are not the same thing.

When Americans lived in an engineering age rather than a financial one, they mastered far bigger tasks for far less money. We can't go back in time, but we can recover the common sense that guided our grandparents who accomplished so much. One elementary principle is accountability: We can't expect the government to get the job done until voters can say both to incompetent transit workers and to the incompetent elites who feel entitled to govern: "You're fired."

These are fine sentiments, and they are sweet, sweet music to libertarian ears. I especially agree with the idea that government needs to restore confidence by mastering core tasks. As I've noted before, distrust in government's competence counterintuitively leads bigger and bigger government. Libertarians are not anarchists and we don't believe in no government but in (sharply and clearly) limited government.

But the real question is: What exactly does anything Thiel says have to do with Trump? While there's no question that Trump's ascendancy has driven much of the GOP establishment onto the fainting couch, the reality TV star embodies almost every negative mentioned in those paragraphs above. He has pledged to cut taxes and his spending ambitions, like Hillary Clinton's, will simply explode government spending, including on such projects as infrastructure (read: DC Metro systems). Trump talks like a czar rather than a bureacract, which leads to its own immense problems when runninng a country as opposed to a business venture (and even then…). Virtually all of his policies (think immigration and foreign policy) are constantly being revised to the point of being unknowable. He seems one taco-bowl-induced blood-sugar spike away from declaring martial law, doesn't he? As important, his fixation on a great, big, beautiful wall is precisely the sort of grand project that is not only sure to fail (remember, there are fewer and fewer Mexicans coming here, 40 percent of illegals enter the country legally on visas, etc.) but misguided. If "making America great again" is synonymous with protectionism against people and goods, well, good luck with that. Should the great purpose of the federal government be overseeing the exact mix of the labor market via immigration policy? No, and it will fail at that the same way it has failed at foreign wars that either never should have been fought in the first place (Iraq, Libya) or under vastly different strategies (Afghanistan). When you are doing something you shouldn't be doing, technical expertise is irrelevant.

Trump may well be what former political consultant and ABC News analyst Matthew Dowd has called an "accelerator" for the demise of the current Republicand and Democratic duopoly, but I'd argue that that's because he is the reductio ad absurdum of conservative Republicanism, not its opposite. By almost perfectly following the script the GOP has used for the past 10 or 20 years, he puts the lie to the idea the GOP is a party of limited government or serious about governance.

Now more than ever, we need (and want) a government that spends less and does less, but is also competent at those things for which it is responsible (national defense, some roads and courts, basic social safety net). For different reasons, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are boundless in their beliefs about what government can, must, and should do; with Trump there is the added worry that he seems to mistake his ambitions with those of the volk. The ticket that most shows the restraint and wisdom Thiel calls for in the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, who have, as one of their ads puts it, been there and done that. That is, they've worked not to make government bigger and bigger in every way but to get it out of the way, so we can all pursue our individual and voluntary Manhattan Projects, to live our lives as works of art.

We're not in Bismarck's Germany or the era that birthed the modern welfare-warfare state, and we're not in the depths of World War II or even a "new Cold War" (thanks for nothing, Donald Rumsfeld). Thanks exactly to characters such as Peter Thiel, who counsels at the end of his energizing business book Zero to One to get off our asses and build the world we want to live in, we are living in a Libertarian Moment in which increasing numbers of disaffected citizens are doing exactly that, far outside the realm of government. If the operating system of the long 20th century (let's stretch that definition to beging with Bismarck and, hopefully, to end with the 2016 election) was all about centralizing control of people in mostly top-down systems of control (workplaces, nation-states, education, medicine, information, immigration, access to technology, and more), the OS for the 21st century is all about dispersion, decentralization, and deregulation of economic, cultural, and political life. We have more choices of how to live and more comfort with more choices. The politics, policies, and parties of the near future will not likely resemble the choices incarnated in Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but it will up to us to build the alternative platform, just as Peter Thiel has helped to build outfits such as Facebook and Lyft.

NEXT: Can some people who have finished their felony sentences recover their Second Amendment rights?

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  1. Save us!

    1. Started working at home! It is by far the best job I have ever had. I just recently purchased a Brand new BMW since getting a check for $25470 this 8-week past. I began this 6 months ago and I am now bringing home at least $92 per hour. Go to this website and click tech tab to start your own business…. http://goo.gl/LtI1C0

  2. So you aren’t denying that the Manhattan Project was successful.

    Sounds like we just need to re-regulate the entire economy as if it was on a war-time footing, at all times, and then we’ll have successful government.

    1. And none of this “guns and butter” LBJ shit. I mean, rationing tin cans and rubber and wage controls, etc. It’ll be paradise, just like it was in the 40s.

      1. Ah, wage controls. This is a direct forefather of today’s employer provided health insurance. We can thank Government for creating that, too, through their Perverse Incentives Program. Fortunately, this government created problem ended up receiving a government created fix. We can expect the next scheduled fix in a few months to a year.

    2. Yes but the success was in turning human bodies into plasma.

      1. Says you, I think the Global Nuclear Winter staring contest was the real crowning achievement.

  3. I dunno. If everyone involved is going to look like this, maybe I won’t mind too much.

    1. I can’t even see a crotch bulge from that angle.

    2. Remember, this’ll be headed out of DC, which is Hollywood for ugly people. Perv on them at your own risk.

    3. Riven’s Journal. October 12th, 1985: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This forum is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The comments are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and trolls will look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’ll whisper “no.”

      1. The accumulated filth of all their ass sex and murder Mexicans

        1. This is Riven we’re talking about.

            1. I thought we were all Tulpa?

      2. See, HM just gets me.

      3. Trying to picture Riven with 80s hair, and failing.

    4. You want people to look like cartoons?

    1. For one, Obama said Americans’ reluctance to embrace his favored environmental policies is a sign of laziness.

      Oh… that kind of laziness.

      1. For instance, when one makes ones first trip to anywhere in Asia, sure, you get the impression that Americans are lazy by comparison. But it’s a different kind of lazy– the kind of laziness that the Democrats tend to reward.

      2. The kind of laziness that comes of refusing to relinquish the quality of life for which one works hard.

    2. “Lazy” means we’re not demanding that Govt spend other people’s money fast and hard enough.

      Because what he means by the opposite of “lazy” is to support more-activist government.

      “We” isn’t actually “we”. “We” is The State. And when we deny the state more money and more Mandates to Do Stuff, “We” are being Lazy. AND Selfish! Wanting to do everything yourself, or simply ‘let the market decide’ is selfish anarchy which allows the greediest (e.g. hardest working) and the most privileged (e.g. smartest) to ‘exploit’ others (e.g. provide them things they want for money)

  4. Doesn’t it seem like, a lot of the time, when some guy complains about the government being dysfunctional, it’s just a segue to demanding that the government have more power?

    1. And it’s not a contradiction to them, since a functional government is a powerful and efficient government, powerfully and efficiently getting stuff done…the kind of stuff being obstructed by partisanship and selfishness when the government is dysfunctional.

  5. Again with the “we are living in a Libertarian Moment”: Assertion without evidence, Nick.

    1. Sure we are

      “Now more than ever, we need (and want) a government that spends less and does less, but is also competent at those things for which it is responsible (national defense, some roads and courts, basic social safety net)

      Nick just redefined leftist dogma as libertarian and shazam! libertarian moment. I thought libertarians are against this kind of stuff but I am learning more and more that whatever a libertarian is apparently I am not one because I am not into the socials (social justice, social safety net, socialism).

      1. So even Milton Friedman was arguing for a basic social safety net since like the 70s. There’s a few miles of gape between Basic Social Safety Net and Full Blown Welfare State. The goal would be to administrate it effectively and with the least market distortions.

        1. True there is a difference but neither of them are remotely libertarian. It would be nice if they weren’t given a high five by an alleged libertarian author.

  6. Nice rant. I could do the same, but not as clearly, and I wouldn’t have a word or character limit to stop me 🙂

  7. “Health-insurance coverage, recessions (even “Great” ones), China, Russia, unemployment, automation, immigration…”
    two of these things seem not like the others.

    Maybe not as currently arranged, but China and Russia seem at least like potential existential threats if they became so inclined?

    1. Both are punching way above their weight class. China is an existential threat… to Korea, Japan, and Taiwan (individually but probably not collectively, and a few nukes could change that) and Southeast Asia. Russia is an existential threat… to the Slavic and Baltic states (maybe Central Asia? and again nukes could change all that).

      Yet the U.S. could easily stand against both nations. Neither is an existential threat to us, except insofar as mutually assured destruction would result from an exchange of nuclear weapons. But there is not and has not been for a long time (i.e., since the U.S. was the only nuclear power) a good answer to that threat, so you can hardly point the government at a solution and say “go get ’em” when nobody knows what the solution is.

      1. VERY nicely put.

      2. Thanks–I wasn’t trying to imply there’s a govt solution there, just that if we’re going to call the Axis in WW2 an existential threat to the US (which I think I’d disagree with), I wondered why China and Russia wouldn’t fall into that same category.

        1. Fair enough.

          It’s easy to say that at no point during the war were Japan or Germany truly existential threats to the U.S., but it was clear that both powers were intent on becoming so. If the U.S. hadn’t been aiding the Allies all along, had the Axis not been suicidally stupid, or had a few key battles gone differently, the calculus could have changed.

          Same with Russia or China; they’re not existential threats to the U.S. now, although it may be best to contain them (albeit that doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. must take an active role in doing so; there are lots of other countries between Russia/China and the U.S.).

          1. Was Japan intent on that? I thought their strategic aim was to push us out of the Pacific enough to let them coalesce their Co-Prosperity Sphere versus actually invading/conquering the US.

            Regardless, the analogies to the present-day kinda sorta hold up if you squint, right? Containing China will mostly be done via the Navy and containing Russia via girding up Europe–do we need a new Lend/Lease for Ukraine? I’m poorly versed in the realities of Russia/Chinese capabilities and don’t seem to find many sources that are more explanatory versus just cheerleading for one TEAM or the other.

            1. I suppose if we just rolled over for Japan, they would have been “content” (for a time) with not attacking us. But I find it hard to believe that an imperialistic nation with a cultural inferiority complex would be satisfied with living proof of their inferiority hanging around for long.

              Moreover, I think we’re really deviating from the gist of what Thiel was saying. Even if China or Russia were existential threats, what “big thing” is it that the government should be doing but isn’t?

              1. Yes, I’m fairly far afield here, though an actual ‘smart diplomacy’ is a big thing the govt should be doing and I’m curious as to what that might look like in a rational world wrt Russia.

                Plus I’m reading Bartov’s “Hitler’s Army” about the German failures in the eastern war so I’m easily distracted by WW2 topics these days.

    2. *Potentialy*, sure. Dangerous to us – definitely. But as they are now? They could *hurt* us, make us work for a victory, but we’d grind their militaries to dust in a couple of years no problem.

      Neither country has the industrial capacity to sustain wartime production or logistics at the level we can. Doesn’t really matter how many soldiers you can put on the front line if you can’t feed or equip them or coordinate them.

  8. I think Thiel is both right (in that it is possible for government to do things well) and yet also as indicated completely misses the point. The incentives do not exist for the government to do things well. Existential war is certainly one of those incentives, and that’s what drove the Manhattan project and the space program (until we realized the Soviets weren’t even trying to compete with us any more). And indeed, we are not (presently) in an existential war. But that is not the only incentive that can exist. As it stands, the government is more concerned with handing out other people’s money, whether in the form of welfare, subsidies, union wages, contracts, or some other fashion.

    The problem isn’t that the government doesn’t do things anymore. The problem is that nobody (bureaucrats, politicians, voters) is concerned with results. Or perhaps, the problem is that the only result that matters is the amount spent, and not what it is spent on or what is gained from the spending.

    1. Gubmint is the ultimate blind squirrel.

      Back in the day, I used to have the argument with progs about how amazing and wonderful they thought the federal gubmint was, having created the Internet and all.

      I would remind them that some frog at CERN created the TCP/IP protocol and that the Federalistas created a slow computer network designed primarily for warfare, and also for academics and govt agencies. The private sector took that concept and did something useful with it.

      1. Gubmint is the ultimate blind squirrel.

        Indeed, and it is noteworthy in this analogy that squirrels don’t make nuts. Something else has to make the nut for the squirrel to find.

        Put another way, government has never accomplished anything grand or innovative without cooperation from private industry and academia.

      2. Minor point of correction: TCP/IP was invented by Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, both Americans, and was adopted in 1983 by ARPANET. Tim Berners-Lee, a British national, invented World Wide Web and HTTP, both of which run over the TCP/IP internet infrastructure. The point still stands, but it’s better made when you get all the details right or else people nitpick that instead of focusing on the larger picture.

    2. Government doing things well is like the mafia doing things well. Not necessarily desirable.

  9. Government is terrible, and in such small portions.

    Rinse, repeat.

    1. In Bill Hicks’s voice:

      “You see, I think the government has done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don’t believe the government has done some good things, do me a favor. Go home tonight and take all your favorite war history books, all your statues, all your carved faces in mountains, all your stadiums, and burn them. Cause all those top men that have made these things, which have enhanced our lives throughout the year, rrrrreal fucking high on government power.”

  10. (when Scott Baio is your celebrity, you’ve got real problems).

    I still don’t understand this line of critique. The great majority of celebrities are Democrats. Is celebrities on board some sort of benchmark of quality or something?

    1. Yes. The Democrats have Sean Penn. The Republicans have Scott Baio.

      1. The Democrats have Sean Penn Katy Perry. The Republicans have Scott Baio Pro Wrestlers

    2. Scott Baio has a very impressive resume of conquests. That is all.

    3. THINK OF THE CHILDREN COCKTAIL PARTIES.

  11. the hobbled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    Actually this is a good thing. The purpose of government isn’t to do great things, but to keep people from killing each other so they can do great things. Sad that Thiel doesn’t realize this, having done a few great things himself. He is entranced by the possibility of government contracts for his data mining company Palantir – which stands to make billions under a Trump police state.

    Hillary Clinton was not involved in the creation of this message.
    Jill Stein approves this message.

    1. He is entranced by the possibility of government contracts for his data mining company Palantir – which stands to make billions under a Trump police state the government we have and will continue to have regardless of which major party candidate is elected in 2016.

      FTFY

      Or maybe you could point to one of Obama’s nonexistent vetoes of the USA PATRIOT Act and related bills to bolster your claim?

      1. Oh, honey.

        Hillary will be elected president and will nominate Obama to the Supreme Court and the neutered Republican minority will be unable to stop it. And Shreek and Tulpa will rejoice!

        1. Yeah, this time the Democrats are going to care about civil liberties. For sure. Unlike all the other times. It’s going to happen. Wink, wink.

    2. It’s literally impossible for the government to prevent crime because until the act has been committed they can’t do anything.

      1. Really? What’s going to stop them, the constitution?

        1. Stop them from what?

      2. I would be willing to give a certain credit to the simple existence of police and courts for an unknown amount of crime reduction. Most of us, most of the time, wouldn’t go on a rampage and knowing the stiff penalties for getting caught doing so helps somewhat.

        But, then again, I’d have to debit them for causing a fairly significant amount of *extra* crime caused by the incentives they create while prosecuting various ‘Wars on *’.

        1. The problem with giving government a hammer is that every problem starts to look like a nail. The “Wars on *” are only part of it; the government also uses police as revenuers and code enforcers. As though jail is an appropriate penalty for failing to abide some fool’s edict.

        2. Doesn’t stop anyone in Chiraq. The cops there only solve 4% of murders.

  12. Now I am become Death, the destroyer of gossip rags.

  13. “may well have pushed the GOP into a post-culture-war era by declaring, “I am proud to be gay.[etc\””

    Part of having a Government that Does Stuff is having a government deal with culture war issues such as, for example, guns.

    Because although you may define “culture war issue” to mean “an issue *I* don’t consider important,” in the real world, culture wars (so called) are about a cluster of issues, including “God, guns and gays.”

    So our Government that Does Stuff is telling companies which “marriages” to recognize, coming up with “bipartisan, common-sense” gun control – oh, excuse me, anti-gun-violence laws.

    And the government is of course taking up the place of God, either by claiming to be God’s stand-in or by seeking to replace God in people’s allegiance.

    There’s no way this can lead us to a post culture world except in the sense that the victor in a war leads us into a postwar world.

    1. “There’s no way this can lead us to a post culture *war* world”

    2. It just shows that the left-sympathetic libertarians have no clue how progressivism interacts with culture. They may be on the progressive side of social issues right now, but in 15 years when cattle are given human rights and companies are forced to implement transgender affirmative action, they’ll be the conservative old codgers who are “behind the times.”

      The culture war is important, even if your position is that both sides are wrong.

  14. The Manhattan Project coordinated the work of more than 130,000 people in over a dozen states. It was difficult, unprecedented ? and successful.

    I suppose that’s true. Only the government could have done it. People like Henry Ford and John Rockefeller had too much on their plates already to get down to mass murder on that scale.

    1. 1,000,000 lives created or saved!

    2. Ford built the B-29 which not only dropped the nukes but firebombed Tokyo with greater loss of life.

      1. Nope.
        Ford built the B24.

        1. Stupid no editing Reason comments!

      2. Nope it was Boeing and Chrysler. Ford built the B-24.

  15. But the real question is: What exactly does anything Thiel says have to do with Trump?

    Probably about as much as Obama’s famous 2004 convention speech had to do with John Kerry.

  16. “……get down to mass murder on that scale.” And here we get to the brass tacks of what exactly Government can and does do well.

    1. And you even get a choice: “quick and painless”, “slow and horrible”, and “clumsy bludgeoning”

  17. Simply put, the Manhattan Project?or for that matter, the Apollo mission, another of Thiel’s go-to examples for the once-greatness of American government?is not relevant to the everyday functioning of government. Nor should it be.

    Back off, Gillespie, and your Negative Nancy vibes. We’re 2 for 3,496,052, 987! One more and we’ll almost be great again.

    1. Stop it with the negative waves, Moriarty!

    2. 4. You forgot velcro and the ball point pen, which of course would never have been invented had it not been for the space program or something.

      1. TANG! And freeze-dried ice-cream.

        1. The ball-point pen was already in existence – its the ‘can write upside down or in 0-g’ *pressurized* ball-point pen that came into existence due to Apollo.

          Like there are very many applications for writing upside down with a pen in the terrestrial sphere. I suppose it could be useful to write your last words on the inside of the coffin lid when you get buried alive or something.

          1. NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that could write up-side down in a zero-g environment – the Soviet cosmonauts used pencils. Proof again of the superiority of the American can-do attitude – them Rooskies knew they couldn’t compete so they didn’t even bother to try. USA! USA! USA!

            1. “An urban legend states that NASA spent a large amount of money to develop a pen that would write in space (the result purportedly being the Fisher Space Pen), while the Soviets just used pencils.[2][3] There is a grain of truth: NASA began to develop a space pen, but when development costs skyrocketed the project was abandoned and astronauts went back to using pencils, along with the Soviets.[2][3] However, the claim that NASA spent millions on the Space Pen is incorrect, as the Fisher pen was developed using private capital, not government funding. NASA ? and the Soviets[3][4][5] ? eventually began purchasing such pens.”

          2. The ball-point pen was already in existence – its the ‘can write upside down or in 0-g’ *pressurized* ball-point pen that came into existence due to Apollo.

            No, not really: http://www.scientificamerican……nasa-spen/

      2. Velcro was invented by a Swiss engineer in ’41 after seeing some burrs on his dog.

  18. “Trump is nothing if not a male hysteric, flipping out about a national crime wave that exists only in his head”.
    And there it is, Projecting again Nick?

  19. “…Thiel goes from the single-most concentrated military-research project in human history?launched in 1942, when the outcome of the planet’s most-total war was still in doubt and the federal government controlled virtually every aspect of commercial civilian life?to talking about the pathetic excuse for a subway system in the nation’s capital…”

    BTW, any read of the MED shows thre was plenty of waste there, too.

    1. You miss the point. We were wasting together.

  20. This reminds me of when the big Fortune 10 company I worked for recommended watching “12 O’Clock High” as a lesson about the importance of leadership. Yeah, it’s a great story that emphasizes the importance of leadership, but the context of the movie was all wrong.

    1. No, no! I t was exactly spot on…. Work until you mentally collapse!

      +1 for anything with Dean Jagger in it.

  21. Sorry, Peter Thiel Suderman, but We Don’t Need a Manhattan Project for Everyday Life

    Beams, motes etc.

    1. Best comment on the entire thread.

  22. “citizens’ common-sense expectation that …”
    … what follows will inevitably be some idea for spending that is untethered to any sort of cost/benefit analysis.
    calling something common-sense spares us the drudgery of bothering to build any intellectual case.

    1. Nowadays, the phrase “common sense” seems to be inversely related to any external notion of sense, and even how common it is is quite debatable. If lots of people thought it was a good idea, why does it take the government passing a law to make it happen?

  23. Our government used to get things done. The Manhattan Project coordinated the work of more than 130,000 people in over a dozen states. It was difficult, unprecedented ? and successful. Less than four years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the go-ahead, the United States detonated the world’s first atomic bomb.

    I don’t understand how a person like Thiel can fail to ask about the *unseen*.

    How long would it have taken us to make a bomb *without* a Manhattan Project?

    The theoretical groundwork was already done. The ‘gun-type’ device was a trivial (for engineering values of trivial) exercise they were so confident in that they didn’t even test it prior to Hiroshima.

    So . . . 2 years? 4?

    What did we actually *buy* with the MP? Keep in mind that the MP was started *before* the US entered WW2 and the weapons weren’t used until after VE-Day and after we had all but won in the Pacific.

    1. Also – how many people does Walmart coordinate? How many McDonald’s? Yet none of these guys will give these organizations credit for any of the value they produce – only considering how much tax they pay as the metric for how ‘good’ they are.

    2. Uh, correction: MP started in 1942, not ‘before the US entered the war’. Not sure what I was thinking of there.

    3. I ask the same question about space travel if it weren’t for the government not allowing private companies to try and get into space we may have already been to Mars by now. at least we’d have colonies in space. Of course none of that will happen until they allow for nuclear powered craft which is illegal for now. Just think if the government was in charge of inventing cars we would still be riding horses

  24. It feels like people who talk a good libertarian game soon go full Kurtz-Bismarck. It’s a fine between liberty and tyranny indeed.

  25. One of the reasons the Manhattan Project was so successful was because no one knew what they were doing–and it’s hard for the government and the bureaucrat menace to interfere with what you’re doing when they don’t what you’re doing or even that you’re doing it.

    Projects of that scale are still possible; for instance, if you’d told me that the federal government was building the infrastructure necessary to track every email we send and every phone call we make, I’d have thought that was ridiculous–the ranting of a conspiracy theorist. Turns out the government could do that–but only in secret.

    If secrecy and unaccountably are necessary ingredients to build whatever you’re building, I’m not sure we need those innovations. I’d rather see other innovations–like driverless Uber-cars or drone delivery. Those transformational projects are happening out in the open before our eyes, but the government is more of a hindrance to those transformations than anything else.

    I remember when Bill Clinton was devoting untold billions to sequencing the genome. Private industry invented the technology to finish that job in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. I’m not a believer in big government projects, but I could be wrong.

    You want to impress me? Get the government to invent a warp drive. Invent a warp drive, and we’ll have competing space elevators up and running in no time. Build a warp drive, government, or GTFO.

  26. Lost between the two extremes is the vast majority of citizens’ common-sense expectation that the country’s transportation, health care and defense systems should actually work. As a result of both parties ignoring competence while they fight over money, today we have the broken D.C. Metro system, the hobbled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and justified public skepticism of government health care.

    These are fine sentiments, and they are sweet, sweet music to libertarian ears. I especially agree with the idea that government needs to restore confidence by mastering core tasks.

    That’s not what Thiel is saying – unless you consider transportation and healthcare to be core tasks for government.

  27. Oddly enough, Mr. Thiel doesn’t advocate a Manhattan Project for internet development – you know, the industry he actually knows something about, is heavily invest in, and made a mint from.

    1. You have any idea how much money the government has poured into internet and computer development?

  28. “What exactly does anything Thiel says have to do with Trump?”

    Showed that the Republican power players and dogmas are paper tigers and the Democratic players are honorless dogs, which will leave candidates freer to ignore the demands the establishment makes of them for them to be taken seriously by the adults in the room.

  29. Government exists to spend other people’s money on things they don’t want.

    1. People want things like GPS. Or they will want them when made cheaply and easily available to them. But private business finds the development of things like GPS too risky and too costly. Besides there’s no guarantee that the desired results are economically feasible. Therefore it’s up to government, who are essentially unaccountable, so risk is not as much a factor, and can always rely on the generosity of the tax payer.

    2. Sir Humphrey: [calmly] Bernard, subsidy is for art, for culture. [almost furiously] It is not to be given to what the people want! It is for what the people don’t want but ought to have!

  30. you name it: None of these is an existential threat.

    The nearest thing I can think of to an existential threat is that come January, there’s a good chance either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be parked in the Oval Office. And government ain’t doing a damn thing to avert that particular catastrophe.

    Fortunately, we don’t need a government program for that problem – we’re blessed with our Second Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances so I’m hopeful that problem will sort itself out.

    Ha,ha! Silly me! I just now noticed I wrote “Second Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances” when that’s not what I meant at all! But I’m sure you all understand what I mean.

  31. “the OS for the 21st century is all about dispersion, decentralization, and deregulation of economic, cultural, and political life.”

    You mean the public should have access to NSA’s surveillance data banks? Or should they stay undispersed, centralized and regulated?

  32. Why would a prominent libertarian like Gillespie say this when he knows (doesn’t he??) that this is one of the “great debates” amongst libertarians?

    ” Libertarians are not anarchists and we don’t believe in no government but in (sharply and clearly) limited government.”

    I and many others are clearly libertarian “anarchists” who advocate (I dislike the word “believe” here as being incorrect language. This isn’t about whether or not something already exists, it’s about what you would prefer to see in the future) alternatives to Statism as it currently exists. Why wouldn’t Gillespie acknowledge that with some sort of modifier, like “most libertarians – though some – are not XXXX”?

    Very disappointing.

    1. “though *not* some. ”

      Sheesh.

    2. ” Libertarians are not anarchists and we don’t believe in no government but in (sharply and clearly) limited government.”

      That’s a false dichotomy anyway. As a libertarian, I believe in voluntary self-governance. That is, government that functions roughly like an HOA does. That is sometimes called “anarcho-capitalism”, but that is misleading, because the prefix “anarcho” means “a state of disorder due to absence of authority”, but voluntary self-governance is neither disorderly nor does it lack authority.

      Gillespie isn’t so much a libertarian, but a minarchist progressive.

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  35. Unless you want to go all anarcho-capitalist, government is the only entity that is suited to handle the “big projects”. No private entity is large enough to pull off the biggest efforts and it is unlikely there ever would be or we would want there to be.
    Thiel’s point is that the USA used to do this quite well. For right or wrong, our government used to accomplish big things that have had long term public benefit. Government working on projects that do not have a short-term payback, or a payback that is so diffuse that direct profit is not achievable by a private entity. Interstates are the simplest example.
    My take away from Thiel’s speech is that we need to have a government that can handle the big public works. Currently, they can’t even handle the little public works. I have no argument with that and I don’t understand where in the L philosophy we shouldn’t want a government to handle the big projects. What we have now is one mired in micromanagement and corruption. Get rid of that, focus on the public works, and the government will shrink, not grow. This isn’t a “big government” argument. Its an argument about the purpose.

    1. And the reflexive TDS crap is so tiresome. We don’t know that Trump will increase spending overall. The flat assumption that he will is based on a very selective reading of stump speeches. One of his advisors recently came out with statements about eliminating the Depts of Commerce and Energy.
      We know what Hillary will do based on her extensive government history and policy statements.
      We fear Trump will be a big gov spender. That is very different than “knowing”. Intelligent people should be able to recognize this and knock off the constant hyperbole. It’s sad that Gillespie and others can’t recognize their own severe kneejerk bias.

      Shall we instead talk about how Johnson made a fool of himself yesterday by asking “what is Allepo?

  36. Trump is a deal maker. He starts off asking for the moon then takes as much as he can get. As long as there is a Conservative congress his grand plans will be quite small in actual action, except maybe the destruction of ISIS.

  37. Everyone wants to be cool….

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