Update: Elon has responded to this article. His response is now added on the bottom.
There are humongous issues with inequality in the world at large and in the United States in particular, and that growing problem in the United States has been leading us to a more and more unstable place. It’s one of the top problems facing the United States, in my opinion. Also, I’ll say that I think Bernie Sanders’ dedication to fighting this and many of his preferred policies to address it are completely sensible — and it’s just sad that the United States is so far behind most European countries in creating a more human society and a higher quality of life. That said, this is a shockingly idiotic tweet:
We are in a moment in American history where two guys — Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — own more wealth than the bottom 40% of people in this country. That level of greed and inequality is not only immoral. It is unsustainable.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 18, 2021
I can’t figure out if he and his team are just using a poor method for their political messaging on this broader issue (roping in a couple of famous people’s name to get more attention), if there is some surprising ignorance as to where this wealth is held, or if some other breakdown in logic or strategy us going on here. But I’ve seen this complaint tossed onto Twitter at least a few times in the past several months, and it is so annoyingly misleading that it seemed a response was necessary.
Elon Musk’s wealth is not in gold or cash. It is not in houses or yachts. His enormous wealth comes from the fact that companies he founded have gotten so large and successful, and the related fact that he he doesn’t sell his stock in those companies. He’s so wealthy because so many investors have poured so much money into the expectation that his companies will do better and better as the years go on. Elon is not hoarding cash. He doesn’t have cash to hoard. He has said that he takes out loans based on his net worth when he needs to buy things, rather than selling stock. He isn’t being greedy and just accumulating more and more cash. He did have an expensive home (or more than one perhaps) but decided to sell it, at least partially in response to attacks on his wealth and motives.
The wealth comes from so many people investing so much money in his missions, but if those people decided to all of a sudden pull their money out, Elon’s net worth would rapidly and dramatically deflate. If Tesla all of a sudden made crappy cars and couldn’t make a profit for several quarters in a row, and SpaceX couldn’t get another rocket to launch without blowing up, Elon would become a poor man (well, maybe not poor, but much poorer than he is today).
Why don’t you go after some oil baron. You’re trying to demonize people like Musk who are making huge strides for the environment.
— Scott Wainner (@scottwww) March 19, 2021
“Greed” is just a strange word to use in this case. I’m yet to see any sign that Elon Musk is rich because he’s greedy. He passionately strives for gigantic goals with the companies he creates, but the inspiration there is the goals themselves, not making money.
The company valuations that created his record net worth are so high not because Elon is greedy, but because people see his companies as being so important to the future of our society, see them as being so efficient, so innovative, and so advanced. He’s rich because people with a lot of money invest in his companies above so many others because of the promise they hold and the missions they have, and because he still owns such large portions of those companies since he doesn’t “cash out” by selling his shares.
To be clear, this article is not simply about defending Elon Musk. In fact, the biggest goal of all is probably just to help people on the Bernie side not keep pushing a counterproductive narrative. This kind of attack hurts them in millions of people’s eyes, because as I noted, it’s idiotic. And it looks nasty, since it’s both illogical and so personally targeted. So, rather than pull people to the broader problem and their broader effort — a critical one — they push people away.
Now, if you want to criticize a system in which $628.58 billion can get put into a single company while millions of people struggle with homeless and hunger, that’s a different and important thing. If you want to highlight that the US has too many billionaires and multi-millionaires while it also has so many people with just $40 (or less) in their bank, go for it! This is a real systemic problem. But don’t blame Elon or smear him just for being a good business builder.
Just to wrap up, though, what should Elon do to not be “greedy?” Sell shares of his companies to other rich people? Make his companies less successful so they don’t earn as much investment?
They attack Elon for being so “wealthy” and when the stock goes up (despite the fact he’s not selling anything)
but they never congratulate and applaud him for becoming more poor when the stonk goes down.
weird how that works @elonmusk
— Whole Mars Catalog (@WholeMarsBlog) March 19, 2021
They own the companies they created.
You should tax them when they sell any shares or otherwise pass them to someone else.
And you should tax their companies when profitable.
— Shai Machnes (@shai_machnes) March 19, 2021
Update: Elon has responded to this article:
I am accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 21, 2021