They were going to build a fantasy island together, a floating libertarian utopia where outsiders like them might finally feel at home. They were two walking contradictions: Peter Thiel, the billionaire Facebook investor torn between his Christianity and fleshy gay parties, and Patri Friedman, the commune-dwelling offspring of America's "grandmaster of free-market economic theory." But the Thiel-Friedman professional partnership has come to an end, and right in the media spotlight.
Details just published a lengthy profile of Thiel, a story focused intently on his insane ambition to construct a floating, sovereign, libertarian offshore rig a couple of hundred miles off the coast of San Francisco.
Friedman, who has been trying to make these dreams a reality for the billionaire, tells the magazine he'd like to see a corporation like Apple start up a sovereign "seastead" business, redesigning government from the ground up and reaping big real estate profits in the process. He goes on to explain how he and Thiel would like to see the first such settlement open in seven years, how he'd like to see tens of millions of people living in seasteads by 2050, and how eventually the UN will recognize their little anarcho-capitalist nation states.
One problem: Friedman, the colorful great grandson of free marketeer demigod Milton Friedman, announced his departure as CEO of the mostly Thiel funded Seasteading Institute just last week, presumably as Details was going to press. He'll retain the title of chairman, but will shift his "primary focus" to new ventures outside the institute.
Was he fired or did he resign? He doesn't say, writing only that "the time is right" to launch some sort of vague, forthcoming startup. Details quotes conspicuously from a recent tweet in which Friedman writes about how he "explored BDSM in SF w/ big group of friends tonight." There's nothing wrong with that sort of exploration! But in the same article we learn from a "friend" of Thiel's that the libertarian has "Christian religious beliefs" strong enough to make him feel "conflicted about" his own homosexuality, or at least about the wild parties in which servers walk around wearing nothing but aprons (but not in assless chaps, it turns out). Might Thiel find Friedman, the scion of laissez-faire capitalism, a bit too amoral—in the rigid, conventional, not so libertarian sense?
Maybe not; Friedman was known as a bare chested pinup model three years ago, when he still worked at Google, and started blogging about being a pickup artist and his married polyamory at least as many years ago. The mention in a recent front page San Francisco Chronicle article that he lived in a "co-housing" commune was hardly a revelation, given that Friedman himself started the coop more than four years ago.
More relevant, probably, is Friedman's statement to the Chronicle that in three years he raised only "more than $2 million" toward a project he himself estimated will cost a few hundred million to inaugurate. The libertarian grandson of Milton Friedman must surely have appreciated that his venture capitalist overlord would not find it rational to keep paying him. Still, the two were birds of a feather. Thiel came to Friedman almost miraculously, after one of the employees at his disastrous hedge fund brought him an article Friedman had written outlining the harebrained utopian island scheme. For a while, at least, it must have been nice for the pair to imagine their union might make the fantasy come true. Sometimes even objectivists like to set reason aside.
[Photo of Thiel via Getty Images, photo of Friedman via patrifriedman.com]