Elon Musk Becomes the World’s Richest Person- “It is a mistake to trust him with even a hundredth of his worth”


Slava Talanov

Have you ever ridden in a Tesla? Perhaps your family, friends, or neighbors own one. Even if you have not been inside a Tesla, it is almost guaranteed that you have seen one gliding past you on the street. 

When you close the DeLorean inspired gull-wing door and look at the enormous central touchscreen before you, it may feel as if you have just been teleported a decade forward in time.

It seems that people really do love Teslas. According to Statistica, Tesla sold half a million automobiles in 2020, almost 150% of what they sold the year before. The company’s continuous growth has resulted in developments in ecological electric car technology, and also granted it’s CEO, Elon Musk, a throne of immeasurable financial power.

On Friday, Jan. 8, Musk claimed the title of the World’s Richest Person, passing the three-year occupant, Jeff Bezos of Amazon. For most, this change was entirely unexpected, as only a half-year ago Musk’s net worth was a quarter of his current. Presently, his wealth fluctuates from 175-190 billion USD everyday.

Musk, also the CEO and CTO of SpaceX and designer behind Paypal, is well known for his position as founder and CEO of Tesla Inc., of which he owns 20% – a share now valued at 150 billion. TSLA is known to be a volatile and unpredictable stock which explains Musk’s sudden rise to the podium. 

Musk has spent a decade building up his power in the social space as well. His popular image is completely unlike any created by another billionaire. He has come to fame specifically from his experimental, bombastic, and unorthodox exploits. 

He has sold civilian flamethrowers, posts memes on his twitter regularly, and heading SpaceX, launched his sportscar into the exosphere. All these stunts are part of a grand scheme: Musk has built a brand. 

In response to the news, Musk tweeted, “How strange. Well, back to work …” supplanting the idea that his rise is a result of arduous personal effort and no big deal for him. 

To the casual observer, Musk is a moneyed man that understands how he wants to enjoy life. To many he is a hero, a modern day Alexander Graham Bell, and the epitome of an inventor. However, beneath this fun-loving public persona and the Musk brand, is a dishonest record and a history of unethical practices. 

Elon Musk was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1971. He is the eldest son of Errol and Maye Musk. While Musk likes to present himself as coming out of the middle class, this is not true. The Musk estate included the biggest house in the city, a yacht, a band of servants, and a private plane; his father was among the wealthiest men in the nation. 

 The Musk family rose to wealth in apartheid-era South Africa, using their European ancestry to circumvent socioeconomic challenges. Errol Musk worked as an electromechanical engineer, architecting expensive projects. It was a very profitable profession, as Errol Musk became a millionaire before 30. In the eighties, his father bought an emerald mine in Zambia, from which the family made further millions, using low-paid labor of native Zambians to extract precious gems. 

Musk has voiced his distaste for his father’s methods, calling him “a terrible human being.” In interviews, he has said that the relationship was always strained, and as a result his childhood in South Africa was miserable.

Elon Musk left South Africa for Canada in 1988, partly to escape the military, partly to escape his family, switching between four universities and accumulating “six figure debt” during his education. While his lifestyle in Canada was not as extravagant as he was used to, it was still far from working class.

In 1995, Musk was admitted to Stanford to a PhD program in energy physics and materials science. But after his graduation, he chose to explore opportunities in the new internet instead of pursuing a career in his field. Musk went on to create several successful web startups, which he sold and moved on from. He only took steps into the energy and materials field later, when he found his way to the young Tesla Motors.

Elon Musk did not found the Tesla company, he acquired it, along with the official title of founder from the real founders, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Musk got involved with the company in 2004, a whole year after it was incorporated, and many years after its ideas were developed. He invested seven million dollars, 86% of total investments in the first stage, in exchange for the position of Chairman of the Board. 

After significant sales, Musk manipulated the terms of the agreement and went on to sue Tarpenning and Eberhard for the title of founder, which he also got. In 2008, Eberhard was unseated from CEO by Musk and banished from Tesla Motors. How Musk assumed the position of CEO is a matter shrouded by darkness and non-disclosure agreements. 

Musk is still in feud with Eberhard to this day, on Twitter he wrote, “Tesla is alive in spite of Eberhard, but he seeks credit constantly and fools give it [to] him.” The About section on Tesla’s website has no mention of the names Tapperning and Eberhard – the final triumph in Musk’s conquest.

While Tesla grew massively under Elon Musk’s oversight, the rise came with serious costs for the company’s workers. Labor rights and safety have proven to be less than secondary concerns for the visionary Elon Musk.

Tesla’s assembly lines have been the place of a disproportionate number of workplace injuries. According to Forbes, Tesla received 54 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations within a four year period, eight times the average among car manufacturers. Tesla also has a track record of union sabotage. According to the Washington Post, the company has violated federal labor laws and silenced workers with threat of dismissal.

A yet greater moral crime, Tesla’s sources of lithium and cobalt, materials necessary for manufacturing car batteries come from mines that have been proven to employ slave labor. Most of Tesla’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where unobserved mining operations have been a hotbed for child labor. 

Elon Musk was also quick to support the Bolivia coup of 2020. Bolivia has massive, unexploited lithium deposits and a corporate-friendly administration could have brought Tesla great profits. On Twitter Musk wrote, “We will coup whoever we want, deal with it.”

Additionally, according to Business Insider, Tesla has continued laying off workers on short notice through the pandemic. While Tesla has publicly announced that workers could stay at home if infected or fearing infection, worker interviews have revealed that staying home, with forewarning, even for short spans, could result in termination. 

In the meantime, the country is suffering the effects of a major pandemic: 400,000 deaths, many preventable; a 16% national unemployment rate during the summer; 500 small businesses closing their doors permanently every day; mass evictions of tenants all across the nation; and unprecedented desperation, unseen in the US since The Great Depression. 

Musk has riled his following with skeptical tweets questioning doctors and COVID statistics; he was a repeat offender for sharing fake news during the critical stages of the virus. His tweets, including quotes such as “Kids are essentially immune,” “growth rate of confirmed C19 cases is dropping every day,” and “probably close to zero new cases in the US too by the end of April” have reached tens of thousands of people, inciting hazardous activity and conspiracy. Musk even took initiative to suggest various cures for COVID including hydroxychloroquine, the same anti-malaria drug Trump advocated, turning followers against medical experts.

Then there is the question of Elon Musk’s accumulated wealth – $185,000,000,000. This sum is beyond our understanding. No human ever observes a hundred billion of anything in their life. If you made six figures every year starting with the inception of the modern human species (estimated 200,000 B.C.E.), you would still be tens of billions away from Musk’s current wealth.

It is important to note that Musk’s net worth consists mostly of Tesla shares – not cash. Federal law prohibits him from turning his 20% into cash without going through a declaration process, but this is unlikely to be an obstacle. Holding his money in shares gives Musk a position of power to oversee his companies, and also opens many tax loopholes for him to exploit. 

Critics have been questioning Musk’s wealth for years. What use is Elon Musk putting his dollars to? Who was robbed of the fruits of their labor so that this number may rise? Is it even reasonable for our society to allow people to accumulate such hoards of money? 

Elon Musk’s grandest plan for the future is to create a human colony on Mars. Already he has suggested a program of indentured servitude, in which pioneers could go to Mars in exchange for some years of unregulated, unpaid labor upon arrival. Democratic labor laws, which are already bent at Tesla, would have no power on Mars.

Ignoring science, history, truth, and workers rights time and time again, Musk has proved himself to be dangerously arrogant and unfit for his power. Musk has even proved himself a danger to his own company and investors. The words: “Tesla stock price is too high imo” caused the company’s value to drop 10% when he tweeted them last May.

The world of the super-rich is constantly changing. In no more than a decade, Elon Musk could put a human on Mars, and yet just as easily he could lose everything and drop out of relevance. The whims of one man are unpredictable; it may be the greatest mistake of the century to entrust him with our future.