Elon Musk is a massive Barack Obama donor, a corporate-welfare lobbyist, and a green-energy profiteer who gave his child an unpronounceable name — yet today I’m trying to figure out if I love him.
Back in the Obama administration, here’s what I wrote about Musk, the billionaire owner of SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City:
"Musk is also the model businessman in the age of Obama: His businesses thrive on mandates, regulations, and subsidies. Tesla received a federal loan guarantee to make its plug-in cars, which are also subsidized through tax credits for buyers. SolarCity’s suppliers are subsidized solar panel makers, and its customers get tax credits for getting the panels installed. SpaceX is largely a government contractor."
Yet Musk is an interesting enough guy that, once in a while, he makes me like him. In the past 24 hours, for instance, Musk has pointed out the threat of our current Baby Bust and the waste of corporate welfare. I had to wonder whether I was accidentally writing speeches for Musk.
The first two books I wrote were attacking corporate welfare, and my next book will be on how to reverse the dangerous falling birthrate. Musk, it turns out, agrees with me on both of my professional crusades.
“There are not enough people,” Musk said at a convention of CEOs hosted by the Wall Street Journal. “I can’t emphasize this enough — there are not enough people.”
Musk identified the Baby Bust as “one of the biggest risks to civilization,” as quoted by CNBC.
Addressing the worries about overpopulation, Musk said, “It’s completely the opposite. … If people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble. Mark my words.”
He’s right! There’s a widespread belief that babies are bad. This is contributing, I believe, to record-low birthrates. The belief is wrong. We need more babies. Again, I’ll make my argument at book length. It’s remarkable for a West Coast tech CEO to make what amounts to a culturally conservative argument.
What’s more remarkable, and far more suspect, is Musk’s recent turn against corporate welfare.
Musk has long lobbied for and profited from corporate welfare. He was the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Export-Import Bank, a corporate welfare agency that subsidizes SpaceX. He held corporate-welfare competitions for his new factories, extracting billions in tax credits and other goodies from Nevada and other states. Tesla got stimulus money, tax credits for its customers, subsidies for its charging stations, and more.
Now? He opposes President Joe Biden’s massive “Build Back Better" spending proposal.
“Unnecessary. Do we need support gas stations? We don’t. There’s no need for support for a charging network. I would delete it. I’m literally saying, ‘Get rid of all subsidies.’ ”
He’s right again! He said last month that all electric car subsidies should end along with oil and gas subsidies.
But here, of course, he’s vulnerable to the critique that he is a hypocrite. He made his company huge on the strength of subsidies, and now he is pulling up the ladder behind him. Usually when I critique a company for “pulling up the ladder,” it’s the early movers who got big in a free environment and then lobbied for more regulation to kill smaller competitors. See Uber for a recent example.
Uber is very good at raising money from investors, but it is not good at making profits. So the company is resorting to an old tactic of businesses w/o big margins: lobbying for regulations that will kill smaller competitors and prevent new entrants. https://t.co/1Qe68yvWVR— Tim Carney (@TPCarney) August 11, 2020
Tesla is dominant on electric vehicles. Musk wants the market to stay the way it is. Continued subsidies could disrupt the market more than a free market will.
But I won’t criticize Musk for being correct now — the problem is his past support for subsidies.
What makes things more acute is Biden’s BBB bill including a sweetheart deal for labor unions, which act to funnel millions of dollars to Democratic politicians. A plug-in car made with union labor will get greater subsidies than a car, like a Tesla, made without union labor.
There’s a lot to explore in Musk’s latest turn, but if he’s really opposed to subsidies and in favor of baby-making, he’s on the right track — and it makes me feel very weird to say that.