Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Elon Musk and Misdirection

 I've been posting more political rants lately ... sorry.  It seems that's the part of my mind that is most awake right now and the built-up anger from reading the news needs some kind of creative outlet.  Please feel free to ignore these posts if they're not your cup of rum (or tea ... whatever).

Villain of the Year

So Time magazine did this:

Of course there's been a lot of outcry from the left side of the political spectrum (including a "fixed" version of this cover that was rather pointed, but sadly I could not find it again to include it here), and not without good reason.

Musk is an ultra-privileged, white, possibly narcissistic, dudebro asshole (hereafter abbreviated as UPWPNDA).  I strongly suspect even the majority of conservatives would agree with that assessment.  He's made many decisions over the past year that were incredible insensitive and/or downright harmful.

As an example, an article on the Vox website includes the following:
Musk spent much of the first half of March 2020 downplaying the threat of Covid-19 to his 32 million followers on Twitter. (Later, he promised to build ventilators for California hospitals, although the equipment he sent didn’t prove to be all that helpful in ventilating Covid-19 patients.)

Musk continued to spread misinformation about Covid-19 throughout the rest of 2020, again to his 32 million Twitter followers. Later, he actually contracted the virus and had to miss a SpaceX launch.

Musk rushed to reopen a Tesla plant in early 2021, leading to hundreds of new coronavirus cases.

Musk frequently makes tweets that bounce Tesla’s stock price all over the place — and who can say why, in the end?

Musk stuck his nose into the rescue of a group of Thai soccer players who were stuck in an underwater cave, then called one of the actual rescuers a “pedo” after said rescuer criticized Musk.

Then there's the fact that he pays relatively little in taxes.  This from an article on The Hill:
Elon Musk paid less than $70,000 in federal income taxes between 2015 and 2017, and he did not pay anything in 2018, according to recent reports.

He did pay his taxes in 2016 by exercising more than $1 billion in stock options.

He lives off loans made from his stock options, meaning he doesn’t take a salary from his company.

So yes, there's a "valid" reason he doesn't pay much in taxes, but the methods he uses simply aren't available to average (or even the majority of above-average) Americans.

All of this is a huge misdirection.  If I were conspiracy-theory minded I'd see evil machinations  manipulating the public mindset, but that's too much mental work for me so I'd rather just chalk it all up to a system that rewards complacency, mild corruption, and political inertia.

Of all the UPWPNDA billionaires in the country, Musk is possibly the most beneficial to society in the long term.  By roping in money from a lot of other UPWPNDAs to spend on his quirky projects, he has actually pushed development of electric vehicles, solar energy, space exploration, manufacturing, and mass transit forward well beyond what would have been expected.  And much of this new technology is of huge benefit in reducing or reversing the effects of climate change.

There aren't many other UPWPNDAs who come anywhere close.  Most of them instead generate their billions in low-tax incomes through promoting fossil fuels, pillaging natural resources, and sucking cash out of the pockets of workers and/or tax dollars from the general public.  They of course try to keep a lower profile so they're less noticeable.  Musk's schemes require more investments though so he has to stay visible.

That makes him a very easy and tempting target for criticism (deserved or otherwise).

So let's think about something here.  The despicable things that Musk does are generally legal (or enough in a gray zone that he can get away with them for a while until a court tells him to cut it out and fines him a bit).  The same goes for Bezos, and the same went for Steve Jobs. 

Of course that doesn't make their actions right, just legal.

Buy what would have happened to them if they didn't do such scummy things?  Odds are they would have lost some or all of their financial backing, been removed from their CEO positions, and possibly even sued by their (now former) financial backers for not making choices in the investors' best interests.

In other words, the UPWPNDAs are rewarded for doing bad things and punished for not doing them.

The Real Problem

What we need to be doing is keeping track of these things and not using them against the UPWPNDAs (... ok, maybe not using them quite as much - the UPWPNDAs still need to repeatedly hear that what they're doing is wrong), and instead screaming all this at the top of our lungs at our state and federal politicians.

If the UPWPNDAs are using their position to promote public health misinformation then laws against knowingly spreading that kind of misinformation need to be created and enforced.

If the UPWPNDAs are making decisions that put their employees at risk physically then workplace safely laws need to be updated and enforced.

If the UPWPNDAs are avoiding paying their fair share of taxes then the tax laws need to be updated and enforced.

We can't fix this kind of problem by yelling at the UPWPNDAs when the system is constantly demonstrating to them that what they're doing is right.

Like it's not going to help things if you leave candy lying around everywhere and then yell at a toddler for eating it.  You've got to pick up all the candy and put it where the toddler can't get it.

We need to fix the problems in the system so the UPWPNDAs will stop acting like toddlers.

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