Elon Musk, the troublemaker who should be taken seriously

Before, we had kings and queens. We still have them (Buckingham still sells, like the noisy release of Harry & Meghanthe Netflix documentary), but in addition, now we have the business people section: who is the richest man in the world today, what is Elon Musk’s latest escapade, Donald Trump will he find his Twitter account?

In virtually every one of these episodes, we see the name of the turbulent head of SpaceX and Tesla pop up. Since his acquisition of Twitter, a new season has begun on Elon Musk’s series, and all those who hate the character (they are probably even more numerous than those who idolize him) love it: each episode reinforces them in their convictions.

It must be admitted that the character cannot leave indifferent. But the question is not whether we like it or not, it is to observe what he does and know what traces his action will leave. We have to recognize that, whatever his failures or the excessive character of his victories, he will leave an imprint on the economic history of the beginning of the 21st century.and century.

Mistakes and misstatements

Everything said by non-supporters is based on real facts. Many of their statements or their tweets must be classified as nonsense and their companies are far from being just successes. The list would be long, because the man is certainly very enterprising and doesn’t hesitate to give resounding clarions to welcome each of his initiatives.

Who still remembers the Boring Company which, with such a name, could only be an Elon Musk company, with a serious side at the same time (from the verb boronpierce, dig) and a mockery sign (from the adjective tedious, tedious)? This invention is worthy of the man who smoked based on TV or chose to buy back Twitter shares at the extravagant price of $54.20, because 420 California is the time (4:20 p.m.) when one might legitimately want to light a fire of artifice.

The Boring Company, created in 2016, was to allow car traffic in tunnels and solve the problem of traffic jams in big cities. For now, the only realization is that of a tunnel under the Las Vegas Convention Center, in which only Tesla can circulate; the first stretch was unable to avoid traffic jams during its inauguration and only a second station could be inaugurated in June of this year, when the project has fifty-five; no other project could succeed. The image of Las Vegas that appears on the opening page of the Boring Company website will likely remain there for some time, awaiting another realization.

Another big announcement was the revolution in high-speed transportation, with capsules traveling at nearly the speed of sound in low-pressure tubes to limit air resistance. It was the Hyperloop project, launched in 2013. In fact, Elon Musk had the idea and then let his company SpaceX organize project launches funded and managed by other companies. This is how the British Richard Branson left for the Virgin Hyperloop One adventure, which this year abandoned the idea of ​​transporting passengers in this way and decided to limit its use to freight.

Some projects, such as those by French-Canadian company Transpod, appear to have made good progress, but at SpaceX’s California site, the tube that was built to test the Hyperloop is being demolished.

Two real successes… largely due to public money

Elon Musk’s only real successes are SpaceX and Tesla. However, the beginning of these two activities was laborious. Launchers exploded and early rocket recovery attempts failed, early Teslas had major quality problems, and the Autopilot program caused numerous accidents, some of which were fatal.

Today, SpaceX is a key player in the space adventure, and Tesla’s successes have forced every other automaker to dramatically accelerate the completion of their electric car programs.

For space, he was able to benefit from NASA’s multi-billion dollar financial aid. For Tesla, he would have gotten at least $3.2 billion from California.

But even the successes raise questions about the benefit to society as a whole from the hyperactivity of personalities like Elon Musk. It is true that our national hero Thomas Pesquet could not have arrived at the international space station in April 2021 without the Falcon 9 launcher developed by SpaceX. But the money earned by Elon Musk from his previous ventures, notably reselling Paypal to eBay for $1.5 billion, would not have been enough to allow him to fund all of his projects. This notorious libertarian managed to raise public money for his benefit.

For space, he was able to benefit from NASA’s multi-billion dollar financial aid and technical assistance from NASA engineers. For Tesla, he would have obtained at least $3.2 billion from the State of California in subsidies and carbon credits given to electric car makers, which makes Gavin Newsom, the current governor of California, say that Tesla could never would have existed if it weren’t for your state’s generous climate change policy. The State must be fought when it collects taxes and enacts laws, but the money it pays does not stink…

This method of financing Elon Musk’s flagship companies should lead to more realism those who fear the American model of free enterprise and denounce state intervention: the greatest industrial successes in this world, whether those of the United States, China, Japan or South Korea owes its existence to the active help of states, whatever the political regime of those states and whatever ideology they adhere to.


Incidentally, the excess of Elon Musk’s projects is worrying to say the least. We recently learned that despite Russian attacks on its infrastructure, Ukraine was still able to communicate thanks to the Starlink satellite network launched by SpaceX. Congratulations.

But this project of a constellation of satellites destined to allow a worldwide access to the Internet, if it is carried out, must comprise 12,000 satellites placed in low orbit; to get an idea of ​​what this represents, you have to remember that, in total, only about 2,000 satellites, including a thousand due to Starlink, are currently in activity around the Earth. And scientists are already concerned about the clutter in the sky and the hazards created by space debris. This does not prevent SpaceX, in its latest projects, from talking about 30,000 satellites! Fortunately, your idea of ​​getting 1 million people to Mars by 2050 is just a fantasy.

Tesla’s success isn’t even good news for the environment. Because Elon Musk, who has many faults but is not stupid, quickly realized that building an affordable electric vehicle that could be sold to everyone was a potentially ruinous venture. From the outset, it preferred to position itself in the niche of a very wealthy clientele to whom it offered first a roadster, then large sedans, finally an SUV, which, from the point of view of combating global warming, is of great importance of little interest: building powerful, heavy cars that require huge batteries is heresy if the goal is to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

From a strictly ecological point of view, it would have been much preferable to work first on small urban electric cars to make the atmosphere of cities more breathable. Less spectacular, the work done by Renault to develop the Zoe was much more interesting. But, of course, producing high-end vehicles that those with money can buy a good eco-consciousness is much more profitable. This is also the policy now followed by most major car manufacturers. The weather is good.

Dream or nightmare?

His admirers will say that Elon Musk sells dreams. But what dream is this? In fact, his projects make us even less dreamy because it’s very difficult to know what he really has in mind. In 2014, he declared that artificial intelligence was a danger to humanity and that it should be regulated; the following year, he created OpenAI to ensure that artificial intelligence would benefit all of humanity.

But his entire Twitter action and his fierce opposition to containment measures against Covid-19 show that he is fundamentally hostile to any regulation. That the work being done on OpenAI to link text and image, for example allowing an artificial intelligence to draw a radish walking its dog is fun, but other more substantial applications are arguably under study.

As for the humanoid robot that Optimus showcased at the last Tesla AI Day, it frankly made people laugh with its poor skills; and the plan to sell millions of copies is often interpreted as more braggadocio. But don’t underestimate Elon Musk.

At Neuralink, far more animals were killed in experiments than necessary, but Elon Musk wanted quick results.

Man has ideas and follows them when he really wants to. Those who dared criticize him in his various endeavors learned this the hard way. The way he took over Twitter is another illustration of this. Anyone who might have defied his plans was fired, the staff was reduced by around 3,700 people, most of them women it seems, and the floor was cleared on the spot in its most nauseating form.

At Neuralink, his company where an “augmented” man is being prepared, capable of communicating with computers through a chip implanted in the brain, many more animals would have been killed during the experiments than would have been necessary, according to the statements of employees at the company. But Elon Musk wouldn’t have heeded the warnings: he wanted quick results. A federal investigation is ongoing.

A power to be reckoned with

In short, in all his multiple activities, this entrepreneur has managed to impose his ideas with often brutal methods and, from cars to space, forces his competitors to take his strategy into account. Even in areas where he doesn’t directly intervene, like cryptocurrencies, his tweets play an important role. Such power should make you think.

If you look at what other business leaders have done in the past, this is nothing new. Henry Ford, who wanted to build cars his workers could afford, did more a century ago to steer the world toward mass consumption than any political leader. The entrepreneurs who introduced the first personal computers and Bill Gates, with his operating systems, changed our daily lives more than any five-year plan.

The question that arises today regarding the place occupied by Elon Musk in economic life is, therefore, knowing what consequences his decisions may have at a global level. From this point of view, Emmanuel Macron did well to meet him during his last trip to the United States. Make no mistake, however: Musk can be a useful partner on certain projects, but he can also be the source of very questionable initiatives that must be challenged. Like it or not, it is just as important to argue with him as it is with other heads of state; his power is not of the same nature, but it should not be neglected.

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