December 11, 2015 Print

It takes both forward-thinking vision and a culture that accepts change in order for entrepreneurial innovation to flourish — and political systems that don’t slow things down. That’s the message that world-renowned investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel offered while accepting the Hayek Lifetime Achievement Award, presented annually by Atlas Network partners Austrian Economics Center and F. A. v. Hayek Institut.

“The biggest problem the western world is facing at the moment is political correctness — that you can only say things that have already been accepted,” Thiel said. “People think the same way about products — they only want things that are well-tried. There is no room for new ideas in their thinking. However, nothing really extraordinary can ever happen if people only adhere to ideas that are already very familiar to them.”

Thiel has had a lengthy and innovative career in Silicon Valley, co-founding PayPal with Max Levchin and Elon Musk, becoming the first outside investor in Facebook, and serving as an angel investor in any number of startup enterprises. He has also been a notable funder of liberty movement projects, including Atlas Network partner the Seasteading Institute, which aims help to create a world of competing, voluntary political systems throughout the world’s oceans.

“If I spent too much time in politics, I would be endlessly frustrated, because it seems so incredibly hard to do things,” Thiel said in the Q&A session following his acceptance speech. “And this is why I think that, in our time, government and politics has in some ways become a reactionary force. It's something that's holding our societies generally back. In a democratic society, you need to get a majority. You have to convince a majority to do something new, and if most people are kind of comfortable and don't really want to change anything, that's very hard to get innovation done by political means. So I tend to think that the best hope is to keep politics out of it as much as possible.”

The Hayek Lifetime Achievement Award is named for Nobel laureate economist Friedrich A. Hayek, who perhaps better than anybody else explained how decentralized knowledge and spontaneous order are the driving forces of economic activity and growth. Thiel received the award at the annual gala of Austrian Economics Center and F. A. v. Hayek Institut, held at the Liechtenstein Garden Palace, a magnificent Vienna museum that is home to one of the world’s largest and most important private art collections. More than 200 people from throughout the world attended to learn more about the organizations’ studies and publications, as well as the long-running and influential Free Market Road Show®.