Elon Musk

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Libertarianism

Although Musk self-identifies as libertarian, he does not seem to hold many of the more toxic political positions held by many libertarians (especially the American variety). In a 2013 Mother Jones article[1], the only source we have been able to find that collects Musk's known political opinions, the only "libertarian" position he expresses is that of arguing that government should not offer loans to specific businesses, but instead should encourage certain beneficial types of activities (such as sustainable energy) via tax incentives (e.g. a carbon tax).

The entirety of Musk's verbiage on the subject appears to be contained within two Tweets:

"Me & other private money funded Tesla for first 7 years, got IPO+ govt money for 3, now paid back. Yes, carbon tax would be a better way."[2]

"Yes, am arguing against subsidies and in favor of a tax on the end bad created. Market will then achieve best solution."[3]

While there is room for legitimate debate on the subject, his opinion does not seem to be an unreasonable one, and his suggestion of a carbon tax goes against the positions held by many libertarians (who have been known to argue that global warming is a hoax intended to provide an excuse for further big government interference with private business).

It should also be noted that (again, unlike many libertarian positions) this position only affects businesses large enough to receive such loans. It does not affect small businesses much less any other recipients of government aid; it is not a criticism of the social safety-net, income taxation, or any other favorite libertarian targets.

Furthermore, as far as we can tell, he expressed his opinion entirely using a democratic/meritocratic platform (Twitter): he did not lobby for his views or put money into promoting them. All of the money he put into lobbying was in support of government loans to his businesses – which, arguably, would have a knock-on effect on the idea of promoting such loans to other businesses, especially given the success of Tesla.

At worst he has some perhaps ill-considered ideas about government's role in business, but they're only questionable rather than terrible ideas, and he has in no way abused his power to promote them.

(The same cannot be said about many of his former business associates, unfortunately, but that's a different discussion.)

Hypocrisy?

Musk has been accused of hypocrisy for arguing against government loans to business while accepting such loans for his own enterprises (e.g. Tesla Motors was the recipient of one such loan, which it paid back).

This does not seem like a valid accusation, despite the apparent contradiction. First of all, he's clearly referring specifically to the fact that these are loans from which he has benefited; he makes no attempt to claim the moral high ground of having not needed or used such loans.

One may disagree with Musk as to whether government should "pick winners" by providing or backing loans to specific businesses (as in Solyndra), but there's nothing hypocritical about taking advantage of such loans while openly arguing that they're a bad idea. To say that he should reject such loans if he really believes they're evil is the same sort of logic as "if you think people aren't paying enough taxes, then why don't you pay more yourself?" The point is to change the policy, rather than admonishing individuals to behave differently.

Consider the hypothetical example of a fossil fuel company taking subsidies while arguing that such subsidies should be going to sustainable energy companies instead. This would be a praiseworthy stance – one that admits the business need to take advantage of the existing rules while still arguing that they're harmful and should be improved.

If he were saying "any business that accepts government loans is doing a bad thing", then it would be hypocrisy for him to do it as well. But he's not.

He's also not "pulling up the ladder behind him", as some have implied[4] – arguing that government should provide less assistance; he's only arguing that the assistance should be provided in a different way.

In short: while the accusations of hypocrisy are understandable on the surface, they don't hold up under examination.

Links

Reference

  • Wikipedia
  • Conservapedia: page deleted as of 2015-06-01, apparently after much squabbling spanning December 2014 through March 2015
  • SourceWatch: no information as of 2015-06-01, except to note that Musk is a trustee of the Template:L/sw

Sources

  1. 2013-09 Mother Jones: Taxpayer Subsidies Helped Tesla Motors, So Why Does Elon Musk Slam Them?
  2. 2013-05-24 21:25 Elon Musk: Tweet
  3. 2013-05-24 21:45 Elon Musk: Tweet
  4. Mother Jones, ibid.: "Elon is now looking at it from the point of view of a winner, and he doesn't want to see other people win because they get government money. [...] I do think there is a tendency of people, once they have succeeded, to want to pull the ladder up after them." — Jim Motavalli, who interviewed Musk for High Voltage, his 2011 book about the electric vehicle industry

Notes

This article is heavily based on comments and discussion posted on Google+ on 2015-06-01.