Few businessmen have dominated the public eye like Elon Musk.
Even before his relatively recent achievement of becoming the richest man in the world, he had been the subject of books and countless news articles, and even made a cameo appearance in the movie Iron Man 2, whose main character drew comparisons.
But even as an avatar of success in capitalism, he is a man of equal parts applause and opprobrium, hailed by some as a genius while others deride him as an overly rich threat to the social order.
But of all these ideas about who Elon Musk is, what is it really?
The business visionary
It’s easy to forget that the idea of electric cars used to be a joke. The idea of landing vertically and reusing a rocket after launching it into space was absolutely ridiculous.
But Elon Musk’s businesses have made both a reality. Tesla and SpaceX have reshaped the economic realities for both the electric vehicle and space launch markets.
Musk himself once said, “Rocket engineering isn’t like ditch digging. With trench digging you can get 100 people and dig a ditch, and you’ll dig it a hundred times faster if you have 100 people instead of one.”
“With rockets, you have to solve the problem of a particular level of difficulty; one person who can solve the problem is worth an infinite number of people who can’t,” he said.
Naming him the newspaper’s Person of the Year for 2021, the Financial Times newspaper credited him with triggering “historic change in the global auto industry”.
SpaceX has also brought back the ability to launch astronauts from US soil after NASA retired the shuttle fleet, and has single-handedly reinvigorated public interest in space exploration.
And maybe even more are coming, in a business sense. One of the less recognized achievements has been the launch of its constellation of Starlink satellites.
Amid growing calls for more regulation of satellites in low-Earth orbit, setting up a constellation and seizing that orbital property before there are rules governing how to do it may prove to be a shrewd long-term investment.
the compulsive tweeter
Elon Musk has as many Twitter followers as the combined populations of the UK and the Netherlands (around 85 million), but he only follows 114 accounts.
Of course, now you are ready to buy your favorite platform for $44 billion. – but his comments on Twitter have caused him a lot of trouble in the past.
He was forced to step down from his role as chairman of Tesla after falsely tweeting that he had secured funding to take the company private for $420 a share, a figure popularly used to refer to cannabis.
He was sued for defamation after calling a Thailand-based British cave rescuer a “fart boy” after the cave rescuer insulted him saying Musk’s offer to help rescue trapped schoolchildren was more of a publicity stunt than a real useful offer. Musk won in court by stating that he did not mean to literally suggest that the Briton was a pedophile.
Tesla shares plunged in 2018 when Musk told an analyst they were “boring fools” when the CEO was asked about the company’s record net loss, even though the company is now on solid financial footing.
His spontaneous tweets move markets and spark dozens of news stories, and anything he writes mentioning Tesla must be pre-approved by a lawyer following the claim that he raised funds to take the company private.
The billionaire acknowledged “there are times when I shoot myself in the foot” on Twitter, but didn’t particularly apologize for doing so. This type of compulsive platform use has cost you before and will almost certainly cost you again in the future.
The ‘dangerously duped’ billionaire
In one of his most famous quotes, Elon Musk said, “I’d like to die on Mars, but not on impact.”
But his goal of turning humanity into a multiplanetary species, including building a city on Mars within our lifetimes, has been described as a “dangerous hoax” by Britain’s chief astrophysicist, Lord Martin Rees.
Musk’s banner image on Twitter, along with promotional material from his company SpaceX, shows the planet Mars being terraformed; transformed into a world with an environment similar to that of Earth, such as liquid water and green vegetation to maintain an oxygenated atmosphere.
It’s an idea straight out of science fiction and an impossibility with current technology according to a NASA-sponsored study. But perhaps so were electric cars and reusable rockets.
Musk has a habit of being myopic when making future predictions and anticipating them to come much sooner than they will, which is perhaps what is prompting accusations that he is “dangerously misled.”
The rogue businessman
And this short-sightedness (Mr. Musk sees things as much closer than they really are) also feeds into the image of him as the epitome of a particular type of Silicon Valley stock person; he often promises too much and doesn’t deliver.
His somewhat rogue business ventures have included the Boring Company (and flamethrowers launched as part of their funding round), Hyperloop, and Neuralink, all of which have been accused of failing to deliver on their initial promises.
Neuralink was presented as a brain-computer interface that aimed to implant the first chip in a human brain before the end of 2020. This has not happened yet.
The implant the company has talked about publicly to date is only capable of recording signals from the brain’s motor cortex that normally coordinates hand and arm movements, and at the moment there is no timeline for an interface with either. the higher cognitive functions of the brain.
In July 2017, Elon Musk said he received “verbal approval from the government” to build an underground hyperloop between New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, although nothing of substance has yet materialized from this project. A contract for an underground tunnel system in Las Vegas has been downgraded to simply a “loop.”
Last year he claimed that Tesla could launch a humanoid robot as soon as this yearAlthough there are no signs of that happening.
The billionaire also promised “full self-driving” for Tesla within six months of 2017. It subsequently emerged that “full self-driving” was the name of a feature that did not equate to full self-driving, and even that feature has not yet been formally announced. released and authorized for use.
We will have to wait and see if these are really unjustifiable projects or if, like Tesla’s cheap electric cars and SpaceX’s cheap model for reusing rockets, they will take much longer than Musk expected to come to fruition.
The billionaire internet troll
However, every face of the man above misses something about his interactions with others: that he is a committed and determined troll, often actively agitating against anything that might inconvenience his dealings, with a billionaire’s legal team that protects you from repercussions.
But even with his broad legal support, Musk continues to pick his battles. While he described the COVID-19 lockdowns in the US as “fascism,” he held his tongue over similar government moves in China, which were far more draconian and also affected production at Tesla factories.
Unlike in the US, Musk’s dealings in China are conducted at the discretion of Beijing.
He has repeatedly criticized independent regulators, especially the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and hasn’t been afraid to dive into “culture war” topics, recently mocking an image of Bill Gates with a bit of a paunch. , comparing it to the new emoji for a pregnant man and posting another meme with a transgender flag.
He tweeted in support of Canadian truckers. protesting covid legislations which required people crossing the US-Canada border to be fully vaccinated and warned that the Canadian government was headed for fascism by preventing legal protests.
This aspect of Mr. Musk cannot be separated from the others, of course. His compulsive tweeting is inextricably linked to his trolling, which is linked to his view of his businesses, which has exposed him to accusations of dishonest entrepreneurship, and which is linked to the same foresight that has been criticized as “dangerously misleading”.