Elon Musk: Capitalism's False Prophet

Why are we so convinced this Twitter User/CEO will save humanity?

Having achieved the rare status of celebrity businessman, Elon Musk occupies a unique space in the cultural psyche. Branding himself as “the next Thomas Edison,” Musk got semi-famous through his ostensibly revolutionary companies PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX. But it wasn’t until Musk leaned into the internet sub-culture of Bitcoin and Joe Rogan that he was able to amass a loyal fan base compromised mostly (but not exclusively) of extremely online types.

Musk’s social clout isn’t unique, but what separates him from other celebrity billionaires (say, Mark Cuban) is the “savior” veneer surrounding him. Musk’s investments aren’t talked about as “just businesses,” but rather they’re positioned as e “world-changing” endeavors guaranteed to solve humanity’s most existential problems. According to Muskrats (the unofficial name I’ve bestowed on Elon Musk fans), Tesla’s electric cars will stop climate change while the Boring Company solves the fuel-wasting traffic jams plaguing major cities. And, if those initiatives fail, SpaceX will shepherd humanity to Mars, our plan(et) B. Through this lens, Musk is more akin to Prometheus gifting man with fire than he is to J.D. Rockefeller monopolizing oil.

Very cool and totally normal

But, if Musk is the “savior,” what is he “saving” us from?

In the past quarter-century, the negative impacts of capitalism — climate change, overcrowding, & rampant inequality — have grown worse and more evident. In response, those who support the current economic system have offered a simple solution: if left unhindered, the free market will produce technologies to cure its nasty side effects.

As the old saying goes: “an ounce of the cause is worth a pound of the cure.” 

So, when Elon Musk, a young(ish) billionaire with an army of 55 million loyal Twitter followers comes along promising to save the world, he’s welcomed as capitalism’s long-awaited messiah. From National Review to reactionary right-wing Twitter, Elon is hailed as “the Prince who was Promised.” The only hiccup is that Elon (probably) isn’t going to save the world, he’s just telling us he will to get rich(er).

Musk’s image as a “once-in-a-generation“ inventor shifts once you look under the hood. Literally. He didn’t found Tesla or invent its green battery technology; he acquired it from his board seat and steered the company in a, shall we say, “unethical” direction. His“flamethrower” turned out to be a SuperSoaker filled with petrol that any pyromaniac twelve-year-old could make. And despite touting the Boring Company as a mass-transit solution, all it seems to do is drill long tunnels, albeit dangerous ones given there’s no lane for emergency services.

“Oh, look. A death trap.”

 Upon inspection, Musk doesn’t appear to so much an inventor, but rather a talented venture capitalist with a finger on the pulse of a particular internet sub-culture. Whether he’s naming his child after the serial number on his cell phone, paying a Kardashian to live stream a beta test, or launching a car into outer space, Musk has found success in utilizing the savvy and outlandish antics of modern social media culture to cultivate an influencer-meets-genius persona that’s greatly departed from his true output.

And that’s fine. After all, this isn’t an Elon Musk hate post. It’s a call for serious discussion about how society will remedy the inherent shortcomings of our system of resource distribution.

Humanity should develop electric cars to transition to an eco-efficient future, but Tesla isn’t that — it’s a shell corporation that uses crypto-currency manipulation, union-busting, and loopholes in carbon credits to eek a profit. And we should pursue extraterrestrial travel, but it should be done by democratic governments, not billionaires whose lawyers reminded them “there’s no age of consent laws on Mars.” 

Instead of propping up a billionaire Twitter user and claiming we’ve found an easy solution to systemic flaws, we should focus on real, possible solutions, such as the Green New Deal, a cross-continent high-speed rail system, and improved infrastructure. But as these would require spending money for the public good (gasp!) and admitting collective government action can fix capitalism’s problems, they’re pushed aside for a fairy tale where the son of an Apartheid diamond mine owner whisks us from the burning planet and carries us safely into the stars.

Coming soon to JoeWrote:

  • Public Goods — Why running nations like businesses is a bad idea

  • The Trap of Free Market “Innovation”

  • Conspiracy Theories, and How Social Democracy Can Fix Them

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