How to build the future in 224 pages?

0-1-peter-thiel-best-seller-startupWeekend Journal ran an excerpt from  PayPal Founder and Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel’s upcoming book,  Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. The book is not released yet but is already number one bestseller in Amazon in at least two categories.

Startups is one category and there should be no surprise about that. I have no doubt this book will be extremely popular among those who religiously follow tech blogs, want to run startups or call themselves founders.

The second category is Economic Policy which should come as surprise.

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Standing at 224 pages with no footnotes or references (you can check the content page in Amazon) one cannot help but wonder how this can be a definitive work on both startups and economic policy let alone a bestseller in both those categories.  Its startup credentials come easy, the author founder PayPal and funded many. The economic policy credentials likely come from a provocative chapter that calls for monopoly market power over competition and avers its take on capitalism.

And it does all that with no references to previous works on capitalism, competitive markets or the unavoidable market market move toward market concentration with few powerful players. Not only it ignores any previous works (which there are many, just see the length of references listed here) it goes on to paint a picture that entire branch of economics as antiquated and stuck in 19th century.

Economists copied their mathematics from the work of 19th-century physicists:

Economists use two simplified models to explain the difference: perfect competition and monopoly

 

There is no mention of who those economists are. They are all labeled and addressed as one group – economists.

After several such putdowns of all economists as single class of people, attributing to them what is only taught in introductory coursework the author claims superiority by dismissing these simple ideas easily. It is a time tested ploy to take an already refuted claim, make it sound like widely accepted truth, attribute it as commonly held belief of a vast majority of people and then offer author’s own antidote that causes that belief to come crashing down. For good measure present author’s position as the only possible option with no room for another possibility.

A curious reader with iota of skepticism left in them will find this treatment disconcerting. But there are not that many and the book will continue to remain a bestseller for a very long time. Whether people read this or not they will continue to rave about it, quote from it and will claim this changed everything.

Here we must ask how anyone can opine on such broad and complicated topics of capitalism, competition and monopoly without as much quoting single supporting work or alternative viewpoint. For this we have an answer from my favorite economist, John Kenneth Galbraith,

affluent-society

Now let me end this with a look at what other powerful and popular people are saying about this book. Since these are the blurbs you can get they say nothing but the best. Here are the blurbs from Amazon.com and my annotations.

This book delivers completely new and refreshing ideas on how to create value in the world.”
– Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

Careful choice of words by Mark. He does not say these are correct or relevant, he just says “new and refreshing”. Of course if we look at the econ lit even those are highly questionable descriptions.

“Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how.”
– Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla

The statement is ambiguous at best. Musk ends with, “shows how”. How what? How Thiel built his multiple breakthrough companies? How to build one such company? How to write a book?

” Zero to One is the first book any working or aspiring entrepreneur must read—period.”
– Marc Andreessen, co-creator of the world’s first web browser, co-founder of Netscape, and venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz

The first book? What if we have already many books? Really?

“Zero to One is an important handbook to relentless improvement for big companies and beginning entrepreneurs alike. Read it, accept Peter’s challenge, and build a business beyond expectations.”
– Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO, GE

I honestly don’t understand this blurb. I wonder if Immelt even read the book let alone write this blurb. Why should any reader accept the challenge?

“When a risk taker writes a book, read it. In the case of Peter Thiel, read it twice. Or, to be safe, three times. This is a classic.”
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan

Is NNT calling the readers slow on the uptake? Should they be spending time reading the book three times or spend the time in critical thinking to find alternative explanations for author’s observations?

“Thiel has drawn upon his wide-ranging and idiosyncratic readings in philosophy, history, economics, anthropology, and culture to become perhaps America’s leading public intellectual today”
-Fortune Magazine

If this is indeed true the readings must come through in multiple footnotes. You are only left guessing about author’s readings on these complex topics.

“Peter Thiel, in addition to being an accomplished entrepreneur and investor, is also one of the leading public intellectuals of our time. Read this book to get your first glimpse of how and why that is true.”
– Tyler Cowen, New York Times best-selling author of Average is Over and Professor of Economics at George Mason University

Tyler Cowan gives a circular argument.

“The first and last business book anyone needs to read; a one in a world of zeroes.”
– Neal Stephenson, New York Times best-selling author of Snow Crash, the Baroque Cycle, and Cryptonomicon

Neal goes one step further than Andreesen who stopped at, “the first book”. Neal adds, “the last book”. So just this book is all you need to start and run a business. Nice play on words, using zero and from title of the book to praise the book.

 

Question to you, where do you stand?