Thanks to his ambitious, often over-the-top, star-trekesque goals, many tabloids have dubbed Elon Musk the 'Saviour of the World'. Elon Musk, himself, perpetuated this rhetoric as he often likes to bask in the glory of his fame.
He smokes pot, talks about the student debt. He pushes for renewable energy and he fights for the environment. He wants to save the earth and colonise Mars. Indeed, he is the real-life Iron Man, isn't he?
Well, in reality, his mistreatment of employees at Tesla, attempts at monopolising the EV market or his utter nonsensical but regardless influential tweets points to another direction.
So, probably it's better we took a long, hard look at Elon Musk's supposed plan to save the world and how inclusive and benevolent it is.
One common misconception about Elon Musk portrays him as this great inventor, much like Thomas Edison or a real-life Tony Stark. But is Musk really that great?
The answer to this question is important because popular culture often grants impunity to so-called geniuses despite their wrongdoings or misdemeanours simply because they have the potential to change the world. And Elon Musk seems to have become the poster-boy nerd in pop culture nowadays.
Interestingly, Musk currently holds only six patents to his name, only three of which are utility patents, i.e., actual inventions that were assigned to Zip2 and Myway. On top of that, Musk is only the co-inventor in all of these inventions. His other three patents were design patents for the appearance of a car door, the locking mechanism of Tesla cars and the overall appearance of another car.
Musk is considered to be a pioneer in the electric vehicle industry. Well, that's true unless you factor in the fact that Musk was not even among the ones who founded Tesla Motors.
Instead, it was Martin Everhard and Mark Tarpenning who founded Tesla in 2003 and agreed to declare Elon Musk as a co-founder after a lawsuit and also because he invested $6.5 million in the company.
More importantly, other electric cars like the Chrysler TEVan, Ford Ranger EV, GM EV1, Honda EV Plus or Toyota Rav4 EV all came out in the 1990s and got discontinued way before
Tesla was even founded, primarily because there weren't the required infrastructure like charging stations.
To be fair, Musk did found SpaceX, the Boring Company on his own and he seems to be a visionary in the sense that he introduced concepts like the Hyperloop. However, neither are these proven concepts with affordable, real-life implications for the masses, nor does he have any exclusive patents to his name for these companies. Similarly, while Tesla Motors currently hold over 600 patents, Musk is mentioned in them only because he is their Chief Product Designer and also the CEO.
So, Musk did not pioneer any revolutionary technology, at least not exclusively and he may not be a great inventor. But he supposedly is a visionary entrepreneur who drives his people towards excellence. More importantly, he is going to save the world, right?
That's where the next question arises. Does he even want to?
When Musk designed the Tesla Roadster, he made the car look contemporary, unlike the other electric vehicles that came before Tesla or followed it. But that also made the car way more expensive (The Tesla Roadster cost around $100,000); not the affordable, mass-distributable options like Mitsubishi I-MiEV, which would be more important in realising his so-called goal of saving the environment.
More importantly, he had enough resources going around to build enough charging stations around countries. In fact, 40% of the charging stations in the US belong to Tesla.
But here's the catch.
The Tesla charging stations can only charge distinctly designed Tesla and no other Electric Vehicles (most of them are more affordable) unless you have an expensive adapter from Tesla. Musk recently shared on Twitter that he would be willing to share the supercharger technology with other companies, albeit at a low capacity. But even that has not been followed through.
If he really wanted to change the world for the better, why build charging stations and pertinent infrastructure only to accommodate your own company?
Maybe because he wants you to only buy Tesla and not the much cheaper models in the market.
Some may argue that Tesla revoked their patent rights so other companies can imitate its superchargers. But the problem is, in that case, competing companies would have to forfeit a lot of patent claims against Tesla. So, most companies are avoiding the pursuit of this route.
Hence, it comes as no surprise that Musk's primary goal is not to make automobiles more environment-friendly or affordable, but to establish a monopoly over the EV market.
Most importantly and I cannot stress this enough, Elon Musk is a terrible boss.
Martin Tripp, a low-level manufacturing worker blew the whistle on Tesla citing an inefficient production process that produced tons of waste. In retaliation, Musk sued him for $167 million. But Musk's attempt at character assassination took a much more sinister turn when Tesla's security department tipped the Nevada police suggesting Tripp was planning a mass shooting. The tip obviously was bogus.
Then Musk went on further to accuse the reporter who covered the story of taking bribes from Tesla short-sellers and tried to even get her fired.
Tesla also fired Richard Ortiz, illegally, for organising unions and threatened to pull stock options for workers who followed suit. Interestingly, this was around the same time when Tesla workers were reporting a high number of injuries attributable to long hours of work and gruelling working conditions. The National Labour Board in the US found such actions and subsequent spree of tweets to be illegal and Musk was forced to rehire the worker.
According to a Guardian report, Tesla workers were disgruntled by the big promises Elon Musk kept making as they were the ones who suffered long working hours to make them come true. In 2020, Tesla workers were still complaining about unfavourable working conditions in the company as Elon Musk became the richest man on earth.
But enough about Tesla. What about his nonsensical tweets?
In March 2020 when Covid-19 was surging in the US, Musk went on Twitter to claim that the coronavirus panic was dumb and that it would go away by the end of April.
While it's easy to portray these tweets as quirky and minor mischief on the part of a great man, there may be a more pernicious motivation behind this.
Tesla' Bay Area production plant recorded hundreds of Covid-19 cases after Elon Musk reopened it, defiant of health regulations in May 2020.
Maybe, his tweets are just a way to shift the media narrative and popular discourse from Musk wilfully hurting his workers, to how eccentric and adorable he is as a person.
So, it's high time we recognised Elon Musk as who he is: a businessman who exploits his workers either by suing them for whistleblowing or collective bargaining. Most of his products are only affordable to the rich while screwing with a more affordable alternative.
While his drive to shift companies towards renewable energy may sound benevolent, it's mainly driven by a motive to monopolise the market. Elon Musk only cares for himself and probably a few of his billionaire friends. He is not a revolutionary, neither is he your friend.
Yes, you can applaud him for the outlandish technologies like the Hyperloop or the Boring Tunnel he dreams to bring into real life. But when someone says he's one of us, do take it with a grain of salt.