Elon Musk: ‘Aren’t you entertained?’

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September 3, 2018
11 mins read

Dinner with Elon Musk begins with a drive in a Tesla. I’m seated within the again, subsequent to X, the billionaire’s two-and-a-half-year-old son. It’s round 7pm in Austin, and X is, as one would count on, cranky. We had set off to Fonda San Miguel, Musk’s favorite Mexican restaurant, after a go to with an FT colleague to the Tesla Gigafactory on the banks of the Colorado river. In this huge website Musk is producing the Y electrical SUVs, the newest mannequin within the Tesla assortment that has catapulted him to the highest of the world’s wealthy checklist (web value: $232bn). Musk, with X perched on his shoulders, had proudly proven off the manufacturing facility ground as he periodically raged towards sluggish funding in lithium refining, which is desperately wanted to ease battery shortages all over the world.

Musk’s safety chief, the designated driver, involves the rescue with a milk bottle that soothes X to sleep by the point we attain the restaurant. For the following couple of hours, I’m higher acquainted with the curious character of Elon Musk, the engineer and the visionary, the billionaire and the disrupter, the agitator and the troublemaker. Defying armies of sceptics, together with myself (full disclosure: till my household rebelled towards me and acquired a Tesla Model 3 and I began driving it, I used to be satisfied the corporate would go bankrupt), Musk has constructed Tesla right into a greater than $700bn market cap enterprise and compelled the automobile business to hurry up the shift to electrical automobiles. Not vulnerable to modesty, Musk estimates he might have accelerated the “advent of sustainable energy” by “10, maybe even 20 years”.

In simply over a decade, he has additionally remodeled the industrial area business and the economics of area, racing forward of rivals in constructing a reusable rocket that may carry passengers. Nasa has picked his Starship to land astronauts on the moon over the following few years. It is now value round $125bn. One day, or so Musk is satisfied, it is going to be used to colonise Mars.

Musk is a maverick too, a serial tweeter to his greater than 100mn followers who flouts conference, revels in outrageous outbursts, fights with regulators and workers, and taunts rivals. He has common run-ins with the Securities and Exchange Commission: he was fined and compelled to surrender his chairmanship of Tesla over 2018 tweets during which he claimed to have secured funding to take Tesla non-public, statements {that a} US choose later described as having been made “recklessly”. A current lawsuit accuses Musk of operating a pyramid scheme to prop up dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that’s, actually, based mostly on a joke — an web meme of a Japanese canine. Dogecoin has predictably crashed however Musk’s enthusiasm has not: he twins his black denims with a black T-shirt that includes a picture of the canine.

Why does a critical man with critical concepts take pleasure in foolish Twitter video games that would additionally value his followers dearly? “Aren’t you entertained?” Musk roars with laughter. “I play the fool on Twitter and often shoot myself in the foot and cause myself all sorts of trouble . . . I don’t know, I find it vaguely therapeutic to express myself on Twitter. It’s a way to get messages out to the public.”

It is honest to say that Musk is obsessive about Twitter, a lot in order that he’s been embroiled in an epic on/off buyout of the platform that has captivated Wall Street and the tech business for months. Twitter sued Musk (and he sued again) after he backed out of a $44bn acquisition deal he made in April, accusing the social media firm of under-reporting the variety of bots on the platform. This week, and simply earlier than his scheduled deposition, Musk modified his thoughts. He now says he needs to purchase Twitter once more.

I had requested over dinner whether or not his authentic provide had been a nasty joke. “Twitter is certainly an invitation to increase your pain level,” he says. “I guess I must be a masochist . . . ” But he makes no secret that his curiosity within the firm has by no means been primarily monetary: “I’m not doing Twitter for the money. It’s not like I’m trying to buy some yacht and I can’t afford it. I don’t own any boats. But I think it’s important that people have a maximally trusted and inclusive means of exchanging ideas and that it should be as trusted and transparent as possible.” The various, he says, is a splintering of debate into completely different social-media bubbles, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s Truth Social community. “It [Truth Social] is essentially a rightwing echo chamber. It might as well be called Trumpet.”

Musk doesn’t eat lunch, presumably as a result of an unflattering image in a swimsuit taken on a yacht in Mykonos went viral over the summer season. Since then, he has been on a weight loss program. At Fonda San Miguel, a teeming Mexican restaurant that guarantees a regional culinary expertise, he’s a well-recognized dinner buyer. He orders a frozen margarita (he calls it a slushy with alcohol) and I order a beer. Musk seems round. “There’s a good buzz in this restaurant,” he says approvingly, and suggests to the waiter that they serve us a few of their specialities. Musk is telling me that firms are like youngsters when the primary plates land on the desk: the lamb chops in a pepper sauce, and shrimp with cheese and jalapeños. The meals is “epic”, Musk gasps. 

Musk is capricious, however he sees himself as an issue solver, and the issue is the whole lot from the potential finish of life on Earth to local weather change and even visitors (his Boring firm is constructing tunnels). Recently, he has dreamt up his personal (moderately unhelpful) peace plan for ending Russia’s struggle in Ukraine. Born and raised in South Africa in a well-to-do household, he landed in California after finding out economics and physics in Canada and Pennsylvania. One of his first huge concepts was effectively forward of its time: he needed to revolutionise banking. He merged a web based funds enterprise he co-founded with one other firm in what turned PayPal. When PayPal was bought to eBay, he used the cash to begin SpaceX and put money into Tesla.

Ageing strikes me as the one menace to people that he’s not trying to resolve, although one other firm he based, Neuralink, is designing chips that might be implanted within the mind to revive sensory and motor perform. Musk may be very exercised about inhabitants decline, and claims to be doing his half to populate Earth by having 10 youngsters (from varied companions), together with, it was not too long ago reported, twins with an govt at Neuralink.

He scoffs once I inquire if there are different youngsters he has fathered — “I’m pretty sure there are no other babies looming” — and he dismisses the wild rumours that he has purchased a fertility clinic to help his manufacturing of infants. Some mates, he reveals, have certainly advised he ought to have 500 youngsters, however that will be a “bit weird”. Referring to himself, aged 51, as an “autumn chicken”, he says he might have extra youngsters, however solely to the extent that he could be a good father to them. Nonetheless, he predicts that “the current trend for most countries is that civilisation will not die with a bang, it will die with a whimper in adult diapers”. But he says ageing shouldn’t be solved. “It’s important that people die. How long would you have liked Stalin to live?” That is an efficient level.

Musk, along with his son X, when he was named Time Person of the Year in December 2021 © Getty Images for Time

Musk’s larger fear is the preservation of life past Earth. His answer is to populate Mars. “Something will happen to Earth eventually, it’s just a question of time. Eventually the sun will expand and destroy all life on Earth, so we do need to move at some point, or at least be a multi-planet species,” he says. “You have to ask the question: do we want to be a space-flying civilisation and a multi-planet species or not?” I’m undecided what I feel however Musk is emphatic. “It’s a question of what percentage of resources should we devote to such an endeavour? I think if you say 1 per cent of resources, that’s probably a reasonable amount.” 

Would Musk himself be a part of the pioneering colony on Mars? “Especially if I’m getting old, I’ll do it. Why not?” he says. But how helpful would he be to Mars if he’s too previous? “I think there’s some non-trivial chance of dying, so I’d prefer to take that chance when I’m a bit older, and see my kids grow up. Rather than right now, where little X is only two-and-a-half. I think he’d miss me.” 

The desk is just too small for the massive plates we’re sharing as a second course: a slow-cooked lamb that melts within the mouth, chillies in a walnut-based sauce and shrimp in creamy chipotle sauce. Musk is true: it’s the greatest Mexican meals I’ve ever had.

We flip to his views on authorities and politics and the Twitter Musk seems, the extra emotional, unrestrained persona that comes throughout in his frenetic posts. He is lauding billionaires as probably the most environment friendly stewards of capital, greatest positioned to resolve on the allocation of social advantages. “If the alternative steward of capital is the government, that is actually not going to be to the benefit of the people,” says Musk. 

Fonda San Miguel
2330 W N Loop Blvd, Austin, Texas 78756

House frozen margarita $10
Modelo Especial beer $6
House rocks margarita $10
Spicy sauce $0.50
Angels on horseback (shrimp with cheese) $18.95
Cordero lamb chops $24.95
Mixiote slow-cooked lamb $38.95
Chile en nogada (chillies in a walnut sauce) $38.95
Camarones crema chipotle (shrimp in a spicy chipotle sauce) $34.95
Total inc tax $198.37

He is railing towards Joe Biden for being in thrall to the unions but in addition daring to snub him. “He [Biden] had an electric vehicle summit at the White House and deliberately didn’t invite Tesla last year. Then to follow it up, to add insult to injury, at a big event he said that GM was leading the electric car revolution, in the same quarter that GM shipped 26 electric cars and we shipped 300,000. Does that seem fair to you?” 

Until not too long ago Musk voted Democrat, though he’s now extra on the Republican aspect, or maybe floating someplace in between. He says he’s contemplating organising “the Super Moderate Super Pac” to help candidates with reasonable views. He makes a degree of telling me that he doesn’t hate Trump, even when he has clashed with him, and insists Biden is just too previous to run for a second time period in workplace. “You don’t want to be too far from the average age of the population because it’s going to be very difficult to stay in touch . . . Maybe one generation away from the average age is OK, but two generations? At the point where you’ve got great-grandchildren, I don’t know, how in touch with the people are you? Is it even possible to be?”

Musk has a dystopian view of the left’s affect on America, which helps clarify his wild pursuit of Twitter to liberate free speech. He blames the truth that his teenage daughter not needs to be related to him on the supposed takeover of elite colleges and universities by neo-Marxists. “It’s full-on communism . . . and a general sentiment that if you’re rich, you’re evil,” says Musk. “It [the relationship] may change, but I have very good relationships with all the others [children]. Can’t win them all.”

He additionally has a dim view of regulators, whom he sees as bureaucrats justifying their jobs by going after high-profile targets like him. He appears to be in a continuing feud with one regulator or one other, whether or not it’s over his personal pronouncements or over the remedy of workers. Musk is unabashed about driving his staff exhausting. He was bullied as a baby (and has additionally spoken of emotional abuse by his father) however is now typically accused of bullying others. He shoots again: if anybody is sad working for him, they need to work elsewhere as a result of “they’re not chained to the company, it’s voluntary”.

Does he ever suppose he’s above the regulation? That’s utter nonsense, he tells me: “I’m subject to literally a million laws and regulations and I obey almost 99.99 per cent of them. It’s only when I think the law is contrary to the interest of the people that I have an issue.” I’m wondering if he means the curiosity of Elon Musk. 

There are some subjects that amuse Musk, eliciting extended laughter, and different questions which can be met with deliberate silence earlier than he speaks. The longest silence follows my query about China and the danger to Tesla’s Shanghai manufacturing facility, which produces between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of Tesla’s complete manufacturing. Musk has been an admirer of in addition to an investor in China. But he’s not proof against the gathering US-China tensions or the danger of a Chinese takeover of Taiwan. Musk says Beijing has made clear its disapproval of his current rollout of Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite tv for pc communications system, in Ukraine to assist the army circumvent Russia’s cut-off of the web. He says Beijing sought assurances that he wouldn’t promote Starlink in China. 

People seated on chairs look at a car on a stage
Musk speaks at a Tesla Model 3 launch ceremony in China, 2020 © Xinhua News Agency/eyevine

Musk reckons that battle over Taiwan is inevitable however he’s fast to level out that he gained’t be alone in struggling the implications. Tesla might be caught up in any battle, he says, although, curiously, he appears to imagine that the Shanghai manufacturing facility will nonetheless have the ability to provide to clients in China, however not wherever else. “Apple would be in very deep trouble, that’s for sure . . . ” he provides, to not point out the worldwide economic system, which he estimates, with precision, will take a 30 per cent hit. 

It could also be Musk’s realisation that enterprise selections can not be made with out regard to safety and geopolitics — or maybe it’s merely an conceited perception that he has all of the solutions — that now leads him to supply his personal options to the world’s most advanced geopolitical issues. “My recommendation . . . would be to figure out a special administrative zone for Taiwan that is reasonably palatable, probably won’t make everyone happy. And it’s possible, and I think probably, in fact, that they could have an arrangement that’s more lenient than Hong Kong.” I doubt his proposal might be taken up. 

On Ukraine too, he has advocated a compromise with Russia that has earned him ridicule in Kyiv, the place Starlink had made him a hero till now. He launched his peace plan in a ballot on Twitter and advised that Crimea, which Russia invaded in 2014 and later annexed, ought to merely be given away to Russia. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, shot again along with his personal Twitter ballot: which Elon Musk do you want extra, he requested, the one who helps Ukraine or the one who helps Russia?

We are over an hour into dinner and Musk is in a rush, having scheduled a name along with his SpaceX workforce. We skip dessert and I ask for the invoice, solely to search out out it’s already been settled by Musk’s safety chief. Musk ignores my protestations that he’s flouting Lunch with the FT conference: “You’re indebted to me for life,” he jokes. We head again to the automobile that’s taking him to a non-public airport to board his jet and he suggests we proceed our dialog on the best way.

I discover X precisely the place I left him, in his automobile seat, however he’s extra cheerful after his nap. He is cooing as he watches movies of rockets on his iPad whereas his dad discusses rockets along with his workforce. Suddenly, I discover that the automobile is driving itself, as if to dispel the doubts I had expressed about Tesla’s self-driving prospects. “It can get to the airport without intervention,” says Musk. Alarmed, I put my seatbelt on. Musk might be a magician, however he is also fallacious.

Roula Khalaf is editor of the Financial Times

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