CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet

Peter Thiel wants crypto to be the next American culture war

April 8, 2022, 4:58 PM UTC

Bitcoin champion Peter Thiel made for good headlines Thursday by denigrating the Oracle of Omaha and other Wall Street senior citizens, but the PayPal cofounder’s deeper point deserves some attention.

As Congress and the White House take their first big stab at cryptocurrency regulation, Thiel urged Bitcoin 2022 conference attendees in Miami on Thursday to see digital assets as a political crusade—one that aligns well with his libertarian-populist opposition to Big Government, Big Finance, and left-wing social ideology. 

As the crowd cheered him on, the aspiring Republican kingmaker called Bitcoin a “revolutionary youth movement” and pleaded with attendees to “go out from this conference and take over the world.”

“It’s a political question whether this movement is going to succeed or whether the enemies of the movement are going to succeed in stopping us,” Thiel said.

He continued: “If you have these sort of large, institutional investors, they need to be allocating some of their money for Bitcoin. When they manage state pension funds in the U.S., or they get trillions of dollars in assets, when they choose not to allocate to Bitcoin, that is a deeply political choice, and we need to be pushing back on them.”

Thiel’s argument isn’t novel. Many cryptocurrency acolytes, particularly those backing Bitcoin, see the digital asset as a way to undercut financial systems driving the global economy. If crypto becomes the standard of currency, they posit, centralized institutions can no longer wield power through regulations, interest rates, transaction fees, and the like. Instead, the collectively managed blockchain rules the world.

But Thiel’s political framing of Bitcoin signals a potentially new frontier in the evolution of digital assets: crypto as culture war.

In making this case, Thiel borrows heavily from the same ethos that powered the rise of Donald Trump and shaped the current arc of the Republican Party: distrust of the establishment. He rails against Warren Buffett (a “sociopathic grandpa”), JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. He ties the corporate embrace of environmental, social, and governance standards—something largely absent from crypto—to freedom-stifling wokeness.

The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, himself an avowed enemy of the right, summarized this approach well in a January column: “In this context it’s perfectly natural for MAGAesque politicians to demand an end to a monetary system that runs through banks—we know who controls them, right?—and rests on a currency that’s managed by government-appointed officials.”

So will Bitcoin become the next big Republican rallying cry?

Thiel, who famously backed Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, carries some sway within the party given his Silicon Valley roots and anti–Big Tech leanings. His unapologetically confrontational, populist brand fits well in today’s conservative movement.

But much will need to change for Thiel’s revolutionary vision to gain wider acceptance.

As it stands, GOP support for the crypto agenda often aligns more with a pro-innovation, pro-growth mindset than an establishment-destroying mentality. 

Thiel’s crusade also faces demographic hurdles. The Republican Party’s reliable older voters have shown minimal appetite for digital assets, as evidenced by a Pew Research Center survey showing about 5% of respondents over the age of 50 had used a cryptocurrency. While Thiel’s message certainly could resonate with the youth crowd, voter turnout remains below-average for that group, and younger women, in particular, find his brand of politics unappealing.

The branding of crypto certainly hasn’t helped Thiel’s cause, either. To date, crypto exchanges have largely advertised digital assets as a trendy investment pushed by Matt Damon and LeBron James rather than a principled stance against The Man.

All that said, today’s political landscape moves fast. Who thought five years ago that critical race theory and transgender rights would dominate the discourse? If Thiel wants to make crypto into America’s next great culture war, his detractors might want to start taking up arms.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Everything’s bigger there. Tesla unveiled its new $1.1 billion manufacturing plant in Austin, with a so-called cyber-rodeo party Thursday, attended by CEO Elon Musk and thousands of the electric-auto maker’s fans. The 2,000-acre facility is projected to produce about 500,000 of the Tesla Model Y vehicle annually, slightly less than the maximum output at the company’s plant in Shanghai. Tesla officially relocated its corporate headquarters to Austin last December from California, a move largely attributed to Texas’s more corporate-friendly tax environment, lower cost of living, and bountiful space.

Running interference. Amazon and organized labor leaders traded accusations Thursday of improper meddling in two recent union elections, which resulted in each side claiming one victory. The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon plans to appeal a grass-roots union’s unexpected win in New York City last week, the first by organized labor at a company facility. Amazon claimed that union organizers threatened workers and the National Labor Relations Board suppressed turnout by setting vote times that caused long lines. In Alabama, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union argued that Amazon intimidated, surveilled, and intentionally confused employees ahead of a warehouse unionization vote that appears likely to fail, CNBC reported.

Pushing in their chips. Congressional leaders have selected negotiators charged with brokering an agreement on separate bills that include more than $50 billion in government subsidies for the semiconductor industry, Reuters reported. The move adds to momentum in Washington for propping up the domestic chip sector after decades of bleeding market share to Asian countries, prompting supply-chain and national security concerns. President Joe Biden has pushed for swift passage of a bill, though Democrats and Republicans disagree on climate and trade provisions in their dueling legislation.

An AMA for the ages. Tesla CEO Elon Musk will soon address Twitter employees concerned about his recent purchase of a 9.2% stake in the social media company and appointment to its corporate board, the Washington Post reported Thursday. While Silicon Valley executives frequently hold so-called AMA, or “ask me anything,” sessions with staffers, board members rarely attend or respond to questions. The choice to invite Musk reflects the consternation brewing within Twitter’s largely left-leaning workforce, some of which view the Tesla chief’s libertarian politics and mocking of liberal ideology as antithetical to the company’s culture.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Getting in the game. Could family-friendly Disney soon own the rough-and-tumble Ultimate Fighting Championship? CNBC’s Alex Sherman posited that question in a report Thursday that examined whether it might make more financial sense for streaming giants to take ownership of sports and entertainment brands, rather than striking broadcast rights partnerships with them. While several of the largest leagues are likely too rich for even Disney’s blood—including the National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball—several smaller organizations could be ripe for the picking.

From the article:

Popular sports broadcast rights fees continue to rise rapidly as they present unique live viewing opportunities for advertisers and draw relatively large audiences.

This calculus has made professional sports and entertainment leagues such as UFC, NASCAR, Formula One and WWE potentially appealing targets for streaming companies as a way to control ever-increasing rights fees for valuable live programming that still commands advertising dollars.

“Disney would have been far smarter to buy UFC than spend this much to license,” said LightShed analyst Rich Greenfield. “Now the costs are going way up. Owning a league makes a ton of sense.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Crypto just hit a major turning point in its evolution: Legacy Wall Street is finally embracing it, by Declan Harty

‘Shark Tank’ investor Kevin O’Leary hated Bitcoin for years. Now he thinks it’s going to ‘save the world,’ by Taylor Locke

3 investors paid $55 million to fly to the International Space Station today. Here’s the startup that crewed the SpaceX mission—and is building a replacement for the ISS, by Martine Paris and Bloomberg

Is the metaverse good for society? Meta shareholders will get to weigh in after the Facebook owner loses a bid to stop the vote, by Jeff Green, Saijel Kishan, and Bloomberg

NEAR crypto has doubled in price in four weeks. Here’s what you need to know about the hot new currency, by Chris Morris

Dallas airport uses robocops to enforce mask policy, by Chris Morris

BEFORE YOU GO

Must-see TV. If it feels like you’re always on the clock—something Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella warned about Thursday—I’ve got just the show for you. The first season of the Apple TV+ series Severance, which concludes Friday, is drawing rave reviews for its smart, timely take on work/life balance in the modern office. VICEs Gita Jackson encapsulates the sentiment well, calling the part-thriller, part-satire “an echo of this cultural moment, where workers are saying that they won’t be exploited anymore.” It’s a slow, strange burn that will turn off many viewers, but I can’t wait to finish today’s newsletter and flip on the finale (apparently, it’s wild). 

This is the web version of Data Sheet, a daily newsletter on the business of tech. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.