Summers: Thiel Fellows Is 'Most Misdirected Piece Of Philanthropy'

Larry Summers first public appearance since an "army of academic economists" quashed his bid for chair of the Federal Reserve, did not disappoint. At the Nantucket Project—New England's answer to Davos—Summers called Peter Thiel's scholarship to keep millennial entrepreneurs out of school "the single most misdirected bit of philanthropy this decade."

Here's are Summers full remarks via TechCrunch:

“I think the single most misdirected bit of philanthropy in this decade is Peter Thiel’s special program to bribe people to drop out of college,” said former Harvard President Larry Summers at the Nantucket Project conference during his first public appearance since removing himself for consideration for federal chairman.

Never one to shy away from an opinion, Summers said his friend’s ongoing education nonprofit is “meretricious in its impact and the signals that it sends to a broader society.”

Note Summers use of "special" and "bribe" to describe the Thiel Fellow program, followed by a highfalutin neg like "meretricious." We haven't seen this kind undermining par excellence since that time Summers said he was sorry if you misunderstood his statement that women are innately bad at science and math.

As noxious as Summers can be, his skepticism is valid, particularly when you hear about Thiel Fellows dropping out of Harvard to invent a caffeine nasal spray that sounds like the plot of a Jack Black comedy. His criticism comes from someone who operates at the intersection of academia, finance, and venture capital; he's an adviser to Andreessen Horowitz.

Summers calls the greater impact of the stay-out-school mantra Silicon Valley pundits prescribe as a solution to the prohibitive cost and failings of higher education "tragic."

“I think it’s hard to look back and say it’s a sad thing that Bill Gates dropped out of college — world’s OK, he’s OK. I think it’s a hard thing to say that it’s sad that Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college. But they are extraordinary exceptions, and if any significant number of intellectually able people, of the kind that would have the opportunity to attend top schools are dropping out, I think it’s tragic.”

Thiel's imprimatur will likely help his fellows get funding, but it's worth noting that dropouts don't fall into the cohort that typically gets money from top venture capital firms. Would Peter Thiel be in a position to have this "misdirected" impact on philanthropy if he hadn't gotten both an undergraduate and a law degree from Stanford?

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