For almost twenty years now, Tesla founder Elon Musk’s public persona has been perceived as a progressive champion. To avoid the catastrophe of global warming, we needed someone, anyone, to step-up. Along comes Musk, whose revolutionary vision and engineering skills re-imagined the electric car. To prove he was serious about fighting climate change, he released all the electric carmaker’s patents.
For those of us on the left, it was a breath of fresh air. A billionaire who actually believed in science. A billionaire who shared his tech. His public persona only improved when he appeared on Joe Rogan for the first time. He appeared to be just another common man (flame throwers aside) as he smoked marijuana with the host.
The truth is, as with most wealthy entrepreneurs, his main motivation is money. Not the environment and certainly not people. For starters, Elon Musk has a long history of being anti-union. Unlike Henry Ford, most Tesla workers cannot afford the cars they make.
Musk’s anti-union rhetoric has remained relatively out of the public spotlight over the years. As a result, Musk has maintained his public persona as the kind, billionaire genius determined to change the world for the better. He is widely regarded as the real-life Iron Man.
That superhero perception is changing fast thanks to the worst global pandemic in a century. Covid-19 is making Elon Musk look like a greedy idiot, trapped in his billionaire bubble, not unlike a certain President.
Back in early March, Musk tweeted “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” Two weeks later North America went into lock-down and he has only gotten worse from there. Later in March he claimed to have extra FDA approved ventilators and promised to ship them to New York. The ventilators turned out to be five-year-old BiPAP sleep apnea machines. Around the same time, he predicted that the US would see zero new cases by the end of April. Right.
In May there was a week of eye-opening chain of events. First Musk went on Joe Rogan again to rattle off some right-wing conspiracy theories. He claimed the COVID-19 mortality rate is “much lower” than what is being reported. He then got into a conversation with Rogan where they downplayed the pandemic’s dangers.
Musk then threatened to leave California and the ten thousand people he employs if the lock down was not lifted. Either way, he defied county orders and reopened his Alameda plant anyway. He stated on twitter at the time that “if anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”
This multi-billionaire “hero” protected his bottom line by risking the lives of his workers. If it led to his arrest, he would have gotten a nice photo op out of it. It is also a further indication that he does not give a damn about the people who work for him. He’s willing to put them at risk and if he can’t do that, he’s willing to lay them all off and leave. My hero.
According to Forbes, “Musk’s long-term compensation package, approved in March 2018, set a series of specific market cap, revenue and adjusted profit targets to be attained over a decade. Payouts to Musk come in the form of a dozen individual awards of about 1.69 million Tesla shares.” He was well on his way to fulfilling the first target (and his payout) before Covid-19 took over the world.
More recently, Musk has tweeted his opposition to another government stimulus package. “Another government stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people imo,” he wrote. Musk, who says he supports Universal Basic Income (UBI) also tweeted “[Stimulus packages] are jammed to gills with special interests earmarks. If we do a stimulus at all, it should just be direct payments to consumers.”
That all sounds fine, dandy, and progressive, but his hypocrisy and self interest are still showing. Those special interests have included his own companies on multiple occasions.
As Bernie Sanders tweeted back: “What a hypocrite. Elon Musk has received billions in corporate welfare from US taxpayers. Now he wants to stop 30 million Americans who lost jobs from receiving $600 a week in unemployment benefits, while his wealth has gone up by $46.7 billion over the past 4 months, pathetic.”
It is not all about money though, it’s about winning as well. These two are intricately connected in the business world and public opinion. So, when Musk announced in a tweet that he would sell “almost all” his physical belongings, take it with a grain of salt. His lifestyle or his pursuit of publicity and wealth isn’t what is changing, the only thing shifting is the way he pays the bills.
No one will ever be able to take his game changing ideas away from him. Teslas are beautiful environmentally friendly cars and SpaceX has a lot of promise. However, we should never confuse Elon Musk the man with his public persona. That is, Musk the man has more in common with Donald Trump than the common man.