RUSH: Peter Thiel, one of the cofounders of PayPal, he’s also a bigwig in a gay activist group, GOProud, gay Republicans. I have met Peter Thiel. I have met Peter Thiel at the home of Ann Coulter. He is a smart guy. I had a conversation with him one night with Conrad Black and we were discussing China, economics and so forth. That’s just who he is, cofounder of PayPal. You might have seen him mentioned if you saw the movie Social Network. He was mentioned in the latter half of the movie when they’re setting up Facebook.
This story is from the San Francisco Chronicle: “In a move meant to provoke thought about the value of higher education, Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, is giving 24 students money not to attend college for two years but to develop their ideas instead. The winners were announced today for a new fellowship that has sparked heated debate in academic circles for questioning the value of higher education and suggesting that some entrepreneurial students may be better off leaving college. Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, will pay each of the 24 winners of his Thiel Fellowship $100,000 not to attend college for two years and to develop business ideas instead.
As many of you may know and remember, I did not go to college. I came very close to flunking out because I got an F in speech class twice, if you can believe it. I went to every class. I gave every speech. I just didn’t outline them according to the instructions that were given, so I got an F for insolence and insubordination. I said, “You should call the class outline 101, not speech 101.” And then there was ballroom dance, I’ve told the story over and over again. But I knew what I wanted to do. I knew when I was eight what I wanted to do. When I started working my first job was shining shoes at the barbershop. I wanted to always work. I started in radio when I was 16 and every day of summer vacation I’m getting up at four or five o’clock in the morning go to work at a radio station. You couldn’t keep me out of there. I just loved it. From the time I discovered that and when I first started work at a radio station everything else to me was a problem, everything else was an obstacle. It was not helpful and led to great problems with my father.
My father and mother came from the Great Depression. That was the formative experience in their lives, and given that their belief was, and what they inculcated to me and my brother, who did go to college, as a lawyer and a talent agent and an author and a columnist, they told us you have no prayer of making anything of yourself if you don’t go to college. I didn’t rebel against my parents in the typical ways that kids rebel. I didn’t think they were full of it and try to burn down the house or anything, but I did rebel in telling them that, you know, your values are not mine. I know what I want to do. I was so impatient to get started doing it.
I remember when I got my first job out of town, which is Pittsburgh in 1971, something hit me. I left home and I realized I’m gonna have to be able to demonstrate what I know ’cause I don’t have a diploma that says I’m educated, and I’m never gonna have one ’cause I could not stand the classroom. I hated it. It was like prison. But that value of my father’s is an American dream value. Go to college or you don’t stand a chance. It still hasn’t changed much. And as you know, there are anecdotal examples of people that dropped out that are very famous. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, any number of entrepreneurs. The Zuckerberg guy dropped out of Harvard to devote full time to Facebook. And you can’t take anecdotes like that, say, “Well, that’s good for everybody.” But with the cost of a college education these days, I am seeing more and more people asking themselves, is it ultimately worth it? Is there value here in it? In the sense that, okay, you go to junior high, high school, you graduate, and then it’s just automatic, next stop, college, gotta go there, gotta park yourself there.
You gotta ostensibly get an education, set yourself up for your work life later on. With the economy being what it is, student loans being what they are, are you ever going to earn enough money to totally retire the student loan debt, in other words, have we reached a point here where a genuine higher education costs so much that it’s just not worth it, you won’t get it back? More and more people are starting to ask this question. But it is one of these axioms that’s part of the American dream. Gotta do go to college. Now, of course, I don’t believe it because I didn’t do it and I’ve never been a conformist anyway. I find out what the conventional wisdom is and I automatically go the opposite way, just a personality characteristic for me. And I don’t believe that there is a formulaic way for everybody or a route for everybody to follow that guarantees anything.
Now, I’m not opposed, obviously, to education. I don’t have a formal education, but I don’t think there can be any doubt here that I’m educated. But not formally. And I don’t have any proof of it in terms of a diploma. (interruption) What do you mean, gives me an edge? Snerdley is saying I don’t think like anybody else. Well, college does turn out cookie cutters for a while. It does take you awhile to find yourself once you get out, particularly if you don’t know what you want to do even after you graduate and get out. But I look at what Thiel’s doing here, and I find it fascinating. There’s a great phrase in this article describing many who attend college. The phrase is “it was just this default activity.” And it is. It is the next step in the stage of life. It’s just that you automatically do it. You go to college. You start taking your SATs, your LSATs, whatever entrance exams are there. You go through the process of applying. You want to go to the finest school that will accept you and all of this.
It’s a rite of passage. But it is a default activity. It’s something that most people do simply because it’s the next thing they should do. And what Peter Thiel is saying here is, you know, college isn’t for everybody. I’m gonna give you a hundred thousand dollars scholarship to find out if it’s not for you, give you a hundred grand, we’ll mentor you, you got some idea, you have to apply for this. People aren’t randomly selected. You have to demonstrate that you have some entrepreneurial capability and that you have some idea that is effervescing. You apply and they choose you and then they put you with a mentor for two years and see what happens. I like it. I think there are a lot of people in college that have no business being there. They’re simply there because that’s the next place to go. A lot of people are just parked there while they figure out what to do or they’re parked there ’cause their parents think they should go or they’re parked there because their parents’ friends’ kids are in college so the parents are keeping up with the Jones, want to make sure their kids go to college.
Then there is the genuine belief that going to college equals an education. And there’s no disputing the fact that a college educated individual has much greater earning power than a noncollege educated individual when you’re talking about masses of people. But it isn’t for everyone. And college tuition just continues to skyrocket. In fact, the entire college experience, every expense associated with it continues to rise, and there are people that talk about it, but there is no, like we got Big Oil and we hate ’em. Raise gasoline price. Big Retail, Big Walmart, Big Food. But there’s no hatred, there’s no suspicion of Big Education. And we never hear liberal politicians accusing the people in Big Education of ripping people off. And clearly they are being ripped off.
There a lot of people who do what they do because they think it’s the next thing they should do, and what Peter Thiel is trying to find here is people who are willing to exist outside the assembly line, outside of the default position, and go there. I’m all for it. I love upsetting applecarts and I love busting conventional wisdom. But unlike liberals, if you want to go to college, fine. I am not gonna condemn you or condemn your choice or what have you. By the same token I will never be one demanding that you go, either. Now, some of you might be saying, “Well, you can’t know what you would do as a parent ’cause you aren’t one.” I know a lot of you people think if I had a high school graduate I’d be just like my dad, panicked if my kid didn’t want to go to college. I don’t know. Who can know until it actually happens? Depends on whether my kid was a worthless shred of human debris or not. If my kid was a worthless shred of human debris I don’t know what I’d do, but if the kid showed potential — I would, based on my own experiences, I would be very keen to figure out what my kid was interested in.
Would I make ’em get a job? Well, these are tough questions. My instinctive answer is, yeah, hell, yes, they’re gonna get a job. They may get a job going through college. They may pay for part of it themselves. I happen to think that the way I was raised was pretty good and I look back on it and I think there were some pretty good values that I was raised with. I wouldn’t want a freeloader. I wouldn’t want a kid thinking being a freeloader is possible with me, and I certainly wouldn’t want a trust-funder. But I say that now. I spoil my cats. I don’t know what would happen if it really happened to me. You know, I portray myself as a real, real hard ass. But who knows if that would be the case if the circumstance ever happened to me.
RUSH: Okay, now, here’s a great follow-up story to what I just did: Our last discussion on college. It’s a story from TheAtlanticWire.com: “Nearly half of Americans are living in a state of ‘financial fragility,’ a new paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals. To determine this statistic, researchers from the George Washington School of Business, Princeton University, and Harvard Business School asked survey participants whether they would be able to come up with $2,000 for an ‘unexpected expense in the next month.'” Almost fifty percent of Americans said they would not be able to come up with $2,000 in a month. Now, I don’t know if this means their credit cards don’t have enough limit to borrow against.
I don’t know if this means they couldn’t get a loan; I don’t know if it means they couldn’t get this much at the ATM. I think I’m pretty sure what it means: There’s no way they’ll go grab a lump sum of $2,000. They do not have it. I mean, you can’t sell your house to come up with two grand; you would do that, so you throw out that. You’re not gonna sell your car to come up with two grand, and most people are not gonna sell their flat screen — and most people will probably not sell the ten or 12 cell phones that they have in the house. Fifty percent of Americans say they could not come up with $2,000, meaning they are living on the financial edge.
The actual number is 46.5%; 46.5% of all respondents in the survey are living close to the financial edge.
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