The truth is that, in certain ways, Thiel’s philosophy of tech aligns well with Star Trek. In the Trekiverse, technological progress is inseparable from society and politics. As even quasi-fans will recall, the TV shows and films feature a machine called the replicator, which can produce any inanimate matter on demand—food, drink, warp-drive parts. (In his interview with Dowd, Thiel calls this device the “transporter,” in what can only be a swipe at nerds. Surely he knows better.) The replicator solves, albeit fictionally, what John Maynard Keynes once called “the economic question”—that is, the imbalance between supply and demand, and the resulting need for markets and price mechanisms to allocate scarce resources. The society of Star Trek has decided not to exact a fee for the use of the machine. Thus the replicator can be an engine both for the equal distribution of wealth and for personal enrichment. It does not bring about social change on its own. The post-scarcity world in Star Trek is the result of a political decision, not of pure technological progress.

What is anathema to Thiel in Star Trek is the notion, drawn from Isaac Asimov’s fiction, that the market is but a temporary solution to imbalances in supply and demand, and that technology and plenty will eventually make it obsolete. Star Trek replicators are nothing but Asimov’s robots disguised as coffee machines, let loose on the world as a public good. They dissolve the need for a pricing mechanism. They represent the logical endpoint of the Industrial Revolution, when all human labor has been offloaded onto machines. Star Trek and Asimov remind us that the market and all the behaviors associated with it are temporary and historically contingent. If that is so, then what Thiel thinks of human nature and motivations—that people are competitive, acquisitive, greedy—is temporary and contingent, too.