Elon Musk has recently made headlines for becoming the richest person in the world with a net worth of nearly two hundred billion dollars. Musk is a famous businessman and is known for his work with the companies SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Company, Neuralink, and OpenAI. As a result, Musk is often described as a “self-made billionaire.” He’s also a well-known pop-culture figure, with forty-eight million followers on Twitter and wide support from across the internet, and his tweets have a significant impact on the stock market and the price of bitcoin. Musk is widely known for his support of futuristic technology as an icon of the private space exploration industry. His plans for the future include the colonization of Mars, expansion of hyperloop travel, self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and the expansion of solar power.
At first glance, Musk appears to be a benevolent, if eccentric, billionaire with plans to revolutionize various aspects of our lives. But fans of his work should take a closer look at their hero.
Two hundred billion dollars is a lot of money. It gives Musk the chance to pursue bizarre technological projects, but it also allows him to spend incomprehensible amounts of money on public relations. With a fraction of their wealth, any billionaire can convince the public to think almost anything of them. Musk is no exception. His entrepreneurial, larger-than-life persona is just that—a persona.
Musk is far from self-made. He was born in South Africa to an extremely wealthy white family that profited off the exploitation of workers in sub-Saharan Africa and apartheid-era South Africa. Much of his family’s wealth came from an emerald mine in Zambia owned by Errol Musk, Elon’s father. The African mining industry is known to be incredibly exploitative, with child labor, horrible working conditions, disease, abuse of workers, and fatalities all commonplace. The workers in these mines are mostly black native residents of African countries, while the owners are usually the descendants of rich, white colonists. Musk is not a “self-made billionaire,” he comes from an extremely privileged family that squeezed millions of dollars out of some of the poorest nations in the world.
With a rich family to borrow money from, and massive amounts of wealth gained from the exploitation of African mineral resources, Musk could finally purchase Tesla. Yes, you read that correctly. While it is commonly believed that Musk founded Tesla, this is untrue, and another reminder of the power of PR. Musk invested millions of dollars in Tesla in the early 2000s and paid his way up the corporate ladder, becoming the company’s CEO in 2008. He eventually fought one of the company’s true founders, Martin Eberhard, for the title in a 2009 court case. If at first, you don’t succeed, complain and sue until you do!
This is not an isolated example, either. He also claims to be the founder of PayPal, when in fact he owned another company that purchased Paypal. Again, Musk fought for the title of founder, which he won with the help of his family’s wealth. Founding a company, especially companies like PayPal and Tesla, carries lots of prestige considering the hard work that it involves. But why work hard when you’re born rich?
Well, alright. Musk may not have any real entrepreneurial talent. His companies are still shaking up the automotive industry through ingenuity and talent, right? Right?
No. Tesla has received millions of dollars of government loans to support its mediocre products. Four hundred and sixty-five million dollars in government loans were spent to fund the Model S sedan, and eight and a half billion dollars were shared between Ford, Nissan, and Tesla in a 2009 stimulus fund. Furthermore, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tesla received an unnamed amount of government stimulus money as well. Interestingly enough, right before accepting a fat check from Uncle Sam, Musk tweeted, “Another government stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people imo [in my opinion].” Why give money to financially unstable Americans when you could just give it to the second richest man in the world and his multi-billion dollar corporation?
Billionaires are not our friends, and they are not self-made. Every billionaire makes their money by lying, cheating, stealing, and exploiting every step of the way. PR is a tool used by the extremely wealthy to make ordinary working people, whose labor they exploit and whose tax dollars they parasitically siphon, believe that they can be rich too if they work hard enough. In the meantime, they pay their way to the top and get rewarded with government money. The green technology espoused by Musk is critical to our future, but the ultra-rich narcissists who try to control it are not.