#AIS: Joe Lonsdale on the problem with higher education - Transcripts

June 02, 2022

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This talk was recorded LIVE at the All-In Summit in Miami and included slides. To watch on YouTube, check out our All-In Summit playlist:  0:00 Joe Lonsdale speaks about the problem with higher education and the importance of debate/truth-seeking...


Alright. Next up, um, joe loans now


Go, Joe Lansdale is gonna come up, he's gonna tee it up for about five or 10 minutes in a solo dolo.


told me he's burning the house down,

let your winners ride.

Hello, Miami. It's good to be here from Austin for a day. Were the 2nd 2nd best text city here. It's not too bad. How many people actually live in Miami? I'm curious with the crowd over that. So everyone's phone in town like me. That's pretty cool. Well, you know, I'm, I'm generally an american optimist, but I want to talk about a lot of stuff that's broken right now that we know how to fix, but we aren't. And you know, talking to these guys, especially hearing from Ellen everyone today, it's just so exciting what our civilization is going towards, what it could be doing. But if you talk to a lot of our smartest friends, uh, you know, you look at guys like Dalio's Bridgewater and others, you know, they see american decline, they see decadence, they see decay. And I think there's a lot of important questions we're facing right now, like why did this happen to a civilization, why when there's so many exciting things going on that we know can make a really great future, you know, for our kids and grandkids and for humanity, why why is this stuff breaking?

And I want to tell you a little story, I policy group in Austin and we have, you know, we, we follow the homeless population there and we're going along with a middle aged mexican gentleman who had just lost his job. And he went into the homeless center, he's just really struggling. And he said, you know, I really wanna try to find a job, I want some job training and the and the and the person working there. She says, you know, sir, you deserve a home. And he said, yeah, that's great. But you know, what can I get some training? She said, you don't need to worry about that. You need to worry about getting a home for people just like you what you deserve. And and and I want to back up about the situation in Austin cause we're seeing this all over the country right now. You know, in 2018, the mayor of Austin went to san Francisco in L. A. And and you know, he was asking him for advice, I want to do for homelessness.

There wasn't really homelessness downtown. It's funny, it's just funny to me too, but there's actually a reason he was asked them for advice and it's a special interest thing where there's actually hundreds of millions of funding that goes to these groups in SF in L. A. That work on this and to all of their friends and all the people with their politics. And it's it's a huge money spigot for for for politicians, they're very powerful in those other cities. And Austin, they didn't have that money spigot and he wanted it. And you know, you know what, they told him, I heard this from both sides, he said, you know, you have to show people that capitalism doesn't work, you gotta put it in their faces. Uh, and then you get funding. And he went back to Austin and he brought all the camps downtown, homeless deaths, spiked, homeless trafficking, spike sex trafficking, spike drug spike. But the funding went way up for him and his friends. They got massive new funding. You know, unaccountable sources of money for these people.

And, and, and, and, and then, and then of course they start deploying the answers, which is the housing first strategy. And, and by the way, this is not just like a right versus left thing. I think housing first was first deployed under W Bush. So this is, this is a general strategy, you guys probably know in L. A. They spent $800,000 per new home trying to solve this problem. There's 7000 nonprofits right now, you know, funded by hud around our country with the same philosophy and the philosophy is no pay for performance, no transparency, no accountability. Just build the homes. And you know, when I first heard about this a decade ago, I thought, Wow, that makes sense. There's 5000 homeless people, let's build 5000 homes. Uh, it turns out that there's still about a couple percent of our society that really don't have a home, but they're living kind of on the edge on people's couches with other family with friends. So the actual demand for homes, and it turns out maybe it's about six million.

10 million is effectively infinite. There's infinite demand for homes in our society. And who do you think gets these homes, we build them. So this guy we're following, you know, a few 100 people with my philanthropy group and our team goes back in with them and he gets in line and he's been leaving between camp that they helped him set up in downtown and uh and and a relative's house. But he's, you know, he's saying he's living outside the camp and he goes back and he's just missed getting a home and he's frustrated and they explain the point system and he says, wait a second. So you're saying that if I was on drugs, I would qualify for a home. And they said, well, we don't like to say it that way. But that's true. And he says you're saying if I committed a crime, I qualify for a home, and they're like, well, yeah, but that's yeah, we don't like to say it that way. But that's true, that would have given you enough points to qualify For a home. And and and and what happens here if you try to bait this system, this 7000 these groups around around the country you're screamed at as a racist you screamed at without hominum attacks. There's three things.

One there's not the intellectual humility to see that there may be other answers. That may be correct. Two, there's no respect for the dignity of everyone in this conversation. If you disagree, you are a bad person and three, there's no passion for the truth. These people are not trying to pursue the truth. These people already have the truth and they're giving it to you as a dogma. And this is true of pretty much every of these broken areas in our society. And there's a lot of them, there's a lot of them right now. There's like, you know, we have 50 training programs that we spend a lot of money on the federal government. They're not accountable. They don't tend to work. They're very broken.

There's no transparency. There's no competition. There's no debate your forward or against it and you're a bad person if you're against it, there's, there's, there's these vocational schools around the country texas vocational schools, we're really underperforming seven years ago. And, uh, you know what we did is we ended up actually changing them so that the schools were only gonna be funded based on the salaries of the students coming out if you're tied to graduation rates doesn't work because they can graduate, Everyone were tied to the salaries coming out, we got the, we got the salaries coming out 217% just by putting in that accountability, but, but most of the country doesn't do that. Most of the country, there's vocational schools, people go very low graduation rates, they fail. We're not gonna go into the K to 12 issues you guys know about. But one fact most people don't know is the education inequality in this country is far greater than the wealth inequality far greater. So, so there's, I mean, you know, and you guys probably see there's an infant formula production thing, which the crisis right now, there's really basic policy mistakes around that. The way we run our prisons on probation and parole, there's all sorts of ways to run a much better. We're not doing it though. Uh, you know, I'll give you one other example. Ellen was speaking today, Austin infrastructure.

I'm very excited about his boring company. And, you know, the in Austin, we passed $6,000,000,007 billion plan to build a really small amount of infrastructure. It's already ballooning cost of 12 billion, you know, for for less than half the original money for $3 billion. You could do over 100 times as many uh, as many tunnels in terms of what they're building right now. And you do, you know, with, with, with 100 more stations. And so basically for a tiny fraction of the cost. And again, I go and talk to the city and talk to the guys, there's no intellectual humility. Uh, you know, we don't, there's no, they don't respect your dignity. Ellen is a bad guy. We don't like Ellen, whatever because there there's some kind of extreme version and uh, and they're not interested in the truth and they're really not, they're just interested in like what they're gonna do their way and kind of come back to this, like what's going on in our society? Where is this coming from? And you know, say what causes decadence, decay and decline?

I think the more important question is what actually works like why is our society functional? And I think you have to take it back to the enlightenment, right? I mean, if you look at the exponential growth that's happened that's created the wealth of all of us enjoy. It really happened over the last few centuries, kind of post enlightenment. And you have a society that really cared about pursuit of the truth, really cared about competition of ideas, right? I mean, and you need the virtues for this to work right. The classical virtues that we talk about our civilization, justice, wisdom, temperance, courage. You need the courage to actually fight for the truth. And so what was a long time ago, you tended to have religious dogma, which could be some form of virtue, signaling some some some form of, you know, basically keeping out outsiders and then you had separately debate and substance and debate and substance generally lost to religious dogma. And what was unique about the enlightenment, What was unique about our university system, which we which we created was the liberal universities were replaced to have debates where substance could actually win against, you know, dogma and against, you know, people who people who disagree. You actually disagree civilly, and you actually to pursue truth, you have to have the intellectual humility to know that you don't have all the answers. You have to expect the dignity of people who are debating.

And you had to fight for passion for the truth. And what's happened instead is that most of our universities have been conquered by dogma and by religion that they no longer have these things. So once again, we have the idea of heretics and blasphemy. We don't call that. We don't use those words, but that's what we're facing right now. If you disagree with people, you're a heretic and you're committing blasphemy. If you speak against all sorts of these things, you're not supposed to speak against. If you say that D. I is actually causing problems. If you say that, that here's what DSG is wrong, that's like, it's blasphemous. You know, this is your stuff. You're not allowed to attack these days.

You're in trouble. You're told not speak against it again, or else you're fired. This was written about lots of corporations right now. This happens all sorts of people. And this is happening first and foremost on our campus. What's happened is this zero sum historically illiterate and tolerant virtue signaling, religion has completely taken over and is silencing people And, you know, our founders, our founders were were quite fond of heretics, I don't know if people realized that that that that was kind of the equivalent debate 300 years ago to this, to this world. Religion is that Benjamin Franklin? He said, I think all heretics I have known have been virtuous men. The other virtue of courage or they wouldn't venture their heresy. They cannot afford to be deficient in other virtues to the numerous, uh, enemies they provoke. And so, you know, I think thinking what's going on here, all of us. First of all, I need to go back and think about like where where do we not have enough humility to try to learn more?

Where where we're not expecting people who disagree and actually engaging them and debating them as opposed to calling them names, running them off. And frankly, I think we should also remember it's actually really good to be offended. It's the opposite of safe spaces. There's this weird cultural thing with the millennial generation, I guess I'm barely part of it unfortunately, where you're basically supposed to protect people from being offended. You're supposed to protect them from blasphemy. I think it has to be the opposite of our civilization is not gonna decline. I think we actually have to go out of our way to learn that when we're offended, we have to be stronger. It doesn't mean you're you're somehow like elevated as a victim if you're offended, that's your problem. If you're offended and you just stop and think about it and, and, and we need to use that to advance our civilization again. So that's my, that's my safe for today.


think wanted me to add a bunch more blasphemy, but I'm gonna hold off on that. I think you did enough. I think you did enough. Let's talk, let's chop it up. Get in here. Let's talk about why people feel like they're victims. What do you think in our country makes certain people feel that they've been victimized? What are the valid reasons people might feel that they have gotten a raw deal in America. I mean, I think all of our answers have gone through this. I'm jewish and irish. There was when my ancestors came over, there were signs saying no dogs or irish allowed. My grandfather was only promoted to a certain level of Abbott because he was a jew.

I actually realized that hired a G when they they laughed and said that was a mistake. You can only get to this level. So I mean, I think, I think there has been some pretty horrible things everywhere in the world, frankly not just America. I think everywhere you look, there's, there's always been groups that have been treated pretty badly. I'm irish as well, irish need not apply, we had a pretty horrific famine and and I'm lucky. And then, and then, and it's obviously a lot easier to be irish than it is to be someone who's black in America I think or jewish in the holocaust. Yeah. So you would agree. Different people's experiences Are on a spectrum of the suffering, correct 100%. And so people who have suffered more deserve a little more empathy and perhaps a little bit more consideration. They deserve more empathy, but doesn't mean you should embrace philosophies that are wrong or harmful, right? So I mean if you look at the obviously like there's a lot of truth and positive parts of the Blm movement the last couple of years, but it's actually led to thousands more deaths in the black community because of the things that it was pushing because of the bad ideas.

We got another one of these things. Yeah, one more, one more time. How many more of these do we gotta do this? This is like way more work than I thought I was signing up for. Way more work.


should have had cocktails. I never agreed to be in the conference business when we started doing this pod. I respect you for what you've been able to do, but this is way too much work. You guys

said you wanted to do a look at all these fans are here.

You're doing the Q and A tomorrow.

Okay, sounds good. I think, you know, joe candidly, I think that is where the argument breaks down a bit is um, people have had different experiences and I would uh disagree that people have to stop thinking like victims. I think sometimes We have to think very deeply about the suffering people have had especially when it's different than the suffering that you and I have had. But that that it's so it's and I'm not virtual signaling here. I'm just countering. I think that I think that's fully true. What I was really against is like 10 examples of ways in which our society is broken and hurting poor people, hurting working class people like just wasting money on things in a dysfunctional ways and all of that is happening because we're like going to this liberal society where we're not able to actually like debate things logically and respect respect other people on the other side of the argument. It's all about demonizing people who disagree with us. And I think that's just really really scary right now.

Do you? Um There's a website people have tweeted this uh I think it's the website is called what the funk happened in 1971 dot com. You know what I'm talking about? Where if you go to this website. So in 19 if you look back socioeconomically there's a whole bunch of charts and graphs of everything from G. D. P. To you know labor participation rates etcetera. And there is a moment In 1971 where just trend lines break and uh you know Dorsey tweeted this out a little while ago, a bunch of people talked about it and everybody has tried to figure out what actually happened and there's a couple.

There's a couple of really good explanations. I think. I think the two biggest ones, I think the two biggest ones by far is one is tech driven globalization and the other one is going off the gold currency, which over financial is the economy.

So I think the gold currency one was important. I think the one that people don't talk about whether you agree with it or not, I'd love to get your perspective is, you know, the move to the great society had a whole bunch of things that I think we're meant to do, uh, meaningful good

and then broke down the family as well, which is a huge problem in America. And this is, yeah. So I mean we talk about things that make civilization prosper. I think you get the classical virtues and you get a strong families, uh, which by the way, for whatever reason, I still can't tell be alone was strongly against, which I think is like just just horrible. So, so I think there's a problem in the white community as well. By the way, it's almost half the kids are born out of wedlock right now. And if you statistically look at that, those kids just on average, vastly underperformed. It doesn't mean to say there aren't one off cases And you should get divorced if it's the right thing to do. But but but but it's like it's like it's really bad for society as a whole statistically you can't argue against that. And exactly. We accidentally created the incentives towards divorce in the 1960s. Which obviously wasn't intentional.

But this is a huge problem. We're not supposed to talk about it like a conservative thing I guess.

Um And talk about the Financial ization and moving off the gold standard as well. How did that change socioeconomic dynamics in America?

Well basically it means that there's like a lot more money around. And so I think I think over it put more returns into finance. So I benefit from this is do you as an investor. Uh But yeah, I think I think I think I put more returns into finance. And because there's this explosion of of credit and money relative to so I think finance outperformed uh labor in terms of its an advantage for finance, which is not what you necessarily wanted. Also really really helped accelerate sector and globalization, which probably was good for India and china and southeast Asia and even africa. But it basically forced workers in the US to compete against all these people Moded. And so you have people paid like 15 times as much in the US these other people. And and and then and it wasn't sustainable. So over time these other people out competed you over the last 50 years, which is really tough.

You find it hard to find your tribe in Silicon Valley intellectually hasn't become easier or harder the same.

You know, I've just given up on like having even a tribe so much is like, let's work on this together. Let's actually make prisons have lower recidivism and higher employment. And here's how we're gonna do it. We're gonna put these transparency and accountability incentives and it's hard for anyone to really disagree with that unless you're in the prisons union. And so like we're getting, we're getting all these laws passed in probation and parole and that we're getting always laws passed for identification of school work better. Yeah. And what annoys me most is that I feel like as people who have success succeeded, we all sort of have a duty to go and fix these problems and almost no one else is working on that. That does annoy me.

Um, and then in terms of like, for example, I want to talk specifically because you mentioned higher ed. But if you go a little bit before


um, we have no real form of competition in the school system. Um, you

need some mechanism for good ideas to,

and the, the existing framework has been charter schools. Um, but that's been attacked under every, you know, sort of way, shape or form, how how does that problem get solved? How do we get kids? Um, you

know, so, so the problem if you just give everybody choice right now and you give them a funding, take the money where they want it basically defund public schools, which it hurts the poor kids the most. Uh and so I understand why people are against like total choice for everyone. Kind of just kind of more like policy detail. I think the way to get around that is you just give the poor kids choice because if you just give the poor kids choice and now it's very clear you're just doing it to help them. But even them being able to choose will put pressure and get rid of the hurt, the bad schools and help the good schools. So you see some mechanism, let's do the mechanism through the pork because it helps the most. That that's, that's my view, why shouldn't my kids have choice where to go with my, with my wife and I, why shouldn't poor kids have that choice? So there's, there's things that teachers use isn't gonna hate that. But at least it's a way to kind of kind of maybe build support for it.

And is there a way for unions to to actually do the part of the job, which is about protecting workers with, but disentangle some of the financial incentives to aggregate, you know, do participate actively. You just got

to change the power structure right now, they're totally in charge. I don't want to give an inch, I get it because every time they give an inch, they're gonna lose more power later on. If they see that they're losing some battles, then they have to negotiate and they're gonna be more reasonable. Yeah, you're right. We're gonna get rid of the bottom 20%. We're gonna, you know, you gotta get to the point where the power changes enough that they're willing to work with you. That's that. But but I mean the bigger, the bigger thing I think is we actually need leaders who are courageous, who can speak up about problems in the midst of everyone yelling and screaming and saying, you're not supposed to say things and say actually I don't care what you're not supposed to say. This is my version of the truth and this is what's gonna be the best in society and what we're teaching at universities right now is the opposite of that, what we're teaching is, joe just don't say that, joe, why are you causing problems for yourself, joe. You know, you're not supposed to talk about these things and I'm so sick of it because this is why all this stuff is broken. It's because no one's speaking up. My my friends barry weiss and Neil Ferguson and I along with a bunch of others are starting a new university in Austin?

Yes. Did you buy an existing university?


Just starting from a we got 500 acres in the water. It's really pretty. It's about 15 minutes from the Tesla giant Tesla plan, but 30 minutes from downtown, what we're gonna build majors be and what will be the approach, you know, the the hypothesis, you know, as entrepreneurs, our job is to find these gaps in the world or something should exist but doesn't, and it seems like for the first time in a few generations you could actually build a university that competes with the other very top universities and attracts the very, you know, most talented kids. One of my obnoxious views on this, which I think the stage might might might agree with because it's in our direction is that used to be the smartest people in the world, a lot of them became professors and now you get a lot of very smart people becoming innovators, becoming builders. Like my smartest friends, I got to drop their phds from M. I. T. And stanford and caltech actually found more intellectual expression and satisfaction, you know, in the entrepreneurship world and they did their and so therefore in order to compete, you know, you want not only the top professors, but you want to involve law, top innovators and you know, we want to teach, you want to teach the history of thought in the free civilizations, you wanna actually see like how the alignment come about, what were the books or the debates that people were having when they found in the country and kind of kind of learned that core. Uh, and then we also want to have centers where you know, keep an interdisciplinary, It was one of the key things universities. This is again somewhat technical, but they're broken because you get these departments to get conquered by a certain ideology. So you get certain people to only allow people who think like them to be in those departments. So you wanna, you wanna spread it out 10 years a big problem.

You wanna have some protection tenure was originally was a great thing, protected you to say what you want and practice. Now. It's usually it's usually the other way around and yeah, it's just not good. But you know, there's, there's a huge gap there. I think we can fix it. And my goal obviously is not to have everyone educated through one great university. It's to put pressure on other universities to change and and help build multiple new ones, which I think we need to do.

And the school that you start interdisciplinary by nature, which means that not necessarily known as for technical people for method and

they'll be like a center of like political, common history, there'll be a center of data science and innovation and you know, etcetera will be centers, you know, you know, arts and writing and stuff. So I think you want different, there are different skills. I think everyone should get the kind of core profit or no, it's nonprofit. It's probably it's part of me wishes I made it for profit because I need to make money because it's easier to raise money for it. But we raised $100 million nonprofit for it. We have the land. So it's gonna work. I put my name on it so I'll pay for $200 million for this nonprofit. Yeah. Uh yeah. When do you plan on opening it? Fall of 20, is our goal for the first class.

B about the size of caltech at first is the hope. It's pretty ambitious project. Yeah. Well, our country, our country needs some some more leaders right now who are courageous enough to think, how do you, how do you, how do you, how do you think you'll recruit the first class? How do you, you want, you want to do much more active recruiting the most of our top colleges right now, especially because we won't be as known at first. But I'll tell you what, We have a seminar this summer of 80 kids And we had 44,000 increase from kids about it. We have, you know, when we first, the first two weeks after the story was out on Twitter in November that we're doing this, we have 4400 professors apply because the professors are fleeing a lot of the professors, by the way, a lot of them on the moderate left, they're being attacked by the extremes for, again, talking about and saying things you're not supposed to talk about and say. And so so a lot of them are trying to flee to other environments. There's a huge demand for it right now. It's it's super weird that college kids yeah are


having debates and discussions so much worse. I just find it so weird. Like that was like one of the best

parts of college because I don't have, I mean I haven't been in college for

the last five years has just gotten totally crazy like that. Like we had a woman of professor, really smart woman, you know, definitely on the left, but like she was applying from N. Y. U. Law school last time we're gonna do a new law school because she can't stand it anymore. And we said well what's going on? She said, well for example, we used to use the Socratic method in my law school and I would ask tough questions from both sides of the kids and now in order not to trigger people, I have to write them an email a week ahead of time to make sure I can ask the question and then I'm gonna ask in class next week. So if you were a lawyer, this is the trainer lawyer. I mean it's just this is this is where we are at this point.

So that's why you lost. That's the policy of

I don't know. But this is the universities have just gone crazy the last five years. Like is

that an isolated incident or

no, He has more administrators and students. These administrators are, on the whole more likely to be a neo Marxist than to be be republicans. I mean, it's just like these things have gotten very extreme. What do you think sex


You ever think I would get this bad when you you know, I mean, you lived at a time, I mean, the time at stanford was a pretty bold time when you were there in terms of freedom of speech. In terms of debate vibrancy.

Yeah, what basically happened is all those radicals who are being inculcated and trained and brainwashed at stanford that we were reacting to 25, 30 years ago. They all graduated and then they went off into society and took over all these institutions. And that's the problem we have today, Matt Taibi and Glenn Greenwald were talking about earlier today, where if you actually look at polling, the biggest divide in America in terms of political and cultural beliefs is whether or not you have a college degree. So if you're basically a college graduate, you're a member of the professional class. If you're not a college graduate, you're a member of the working class, that is the biggest divide. And um, you know, the members of the professional class by and large have very, very far left views on sociocultural issues. That's just a fact. I mean, whether you agree with it or not. Um, and that is creating a huge amount of tension in our society, because two thirds of the country is working class, one third is a professional class and a democracy. The side that has the larger number should win. So the working class has the votes, but the professional class runs all the institutions. And this is the source, I think, of all of our political strife In America is that the people who are in charge of our institutions, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, to the Fortune 500 Disney Hollywood.

Um and you go down the list, they have views that are fundamentally in tension and conflict with the views of most of the country, the working class of the country. Now, if you remember that class, you may think it's a good thing, we're gonna push our views onto the country, whether they like it or not, and we're gonna convert them. That's what you call the elite class, right? That's the elite. And and that's what basically, like, what I'm describing is not like a criticism. I think it's just like, that's what I think this is a factual critical what's happening.

Well, yeah, I don't think it's partisan either. I mean, there there are people who are republicans or democrats, and

there are elites, there are elites in both parties, and they're certainly working class people in both parties. But what I would say is that the parties are now in the process of re sorting around this sort of political and cultural divide. And the historically the democrats were the party of the working class, they are now much more the party of the professional class, um and they buy into the belief set of sort of the college educated, the, you know, those sort of, you call it the woke sensibility and the republicans are in the process, transforming into a working class sort of populist party. And and look, there are in both parties are outliers who don't quite fit in anymore, But but that's the fundamental transformation that's happening.

I mean, you guys fit into that your people in the Republican Party, who don't fit in it anymore. I mean, I wouldn't even necessarily mind that dynamic, you describe so much if they weren't breaking everything, and if they weren't not allowing conversations about how broken things are and the better ideas, right? It is a very strange liberal nature.

So, I think, and I disconnected with what we were talking about with Glenn Greenwald, and is that, look if if you're part of the elite and you control all these institutions, all of the cultural high ground, but the country is not with you. And just in terms of the sheer numbers, you are going to use the tactics that people in power always use to suppress the greater numbers. That's where censorship comes from. The people who are running these institutions, don't they want the debate to be over. They want the power to end the debate because they're not otherwise gonna win that debate. Well, we're very

interested in seeing where you take it. And uh, we appreciate you taking the time to share your views.

Well, let your winners ride rain man fans and they've just gone crazy. I'm going what? That is plenty of dog taking in your driveway. Oh man.

We should all just get a room and just have one big huge orgy because they're all just use this like this like sexual tension. But they just need to release somehow. What your

big your we need to get murky czar. I'm going.