Tuesday, January 17, 2023

It was the Best of Musk. It was the Worst of Musk. (Pt. 2)

 I just wrote. a quick post about Elon you can read if you want.  Here's a recap:

  • He's a major funder of OpenAi's ChatGPT
  • He has been at the center of many of America's economic shifts since the late 90s
  • The innovations he has taken a part in creating have changed all of our lives one way or another
  • They have also reshaped how our future will look
  • Those innovations are the best of Musk 

Glad you're all caught up. Let's start talking about the worst of Musk.

I left off pointing out that he is a devout capitalist and how that fact has implications on how the rest of us will access his innovations. Let me explain what I mean by devout. I mean he's here to get rich(er). There is nothing wrong with that. I'm not sure he leans more toward the libertarian side or the socialist side. Whatever side it leans toward, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  The point is that he is committed to pursuing profit. In fact, he wouldn't be successful if he hadn't followed all of the rules of capitalism and found a way to make a profit for his ventures. In the game of corporate profits, Elon Musk is the absolute winner. In the entire world. You don't get to the top of that hill without having a committed approach to profit. See Max Weber's '...Capitalist Spirit' if you want to read more about the commitment that is required in order to be successful in capitalism. Elon's devout.  

Not all of us are devout capitalists. Sure, we all benefit from profit and many of us believe in it. I like to go to a for-profit Italian style bakery near my house every Sunday for bread. I like my iPhone. I like my video game collection. But I also like government services like garbage collection, police and fire protection and a good solid school I can send my kid to every day. I am in this capitalist system as a public school teacher, so I like that too. Sure ,there may be some who believe that my Italian bakery should be government owned, so that Sunday bread can be evenly distributed to everyone in my community. I respect that point of view.  Others may feel that the ladies who own the bakery shouldn't be forced to follow any safety regulations at all and that they should not be asked to treat their workers in a humane manner.  I respect that point of view as well (although I would also stop buying my bread from there if any of those were the case). 

In my travels, I have learned that most of us aren't devout about anything. The rest of us are sort of mixed in our opinions. And that's what most of us aim for. We aim for a mixed economic system where folks are protected while also having a shot at making their cheddar cheese by way of good old fashioned profit. Socialism alone would be a failure. But capitalism alone would be a failure as well. Both have flaws. Most of us like to pick a little bit from each buffet tray.

In its practical functions, capitalism requires huge sums of money (called capital) to be swept away from some so that it can be redirected toward others. This isn't a slight against free market systems or anything. It's just how this particular one works. 

Where did you think your TDA investment into the Sustainable Equity Fund went after it was deducted from all of our checks last week? That money lands in an investment fund that benchmarks (aims to follow) the Russell 1000 Growth Index. That's an investment fund of 1000 of the biggest, fattest most well-known corporations you can think of. Each of them are accepting your money  -twice every month- by simply extending their hand (i.e selling shares).  That's right. The money you make as a teacher goes to defense contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton and to 1%er banks like the Bank of Carnegie Melon and Blackrock. These institutions are the very pillars of modern day capitalism. Of course there is a promise that you will get your money back for whatever their paper is worth at that time. That's the deal you make when you choose to invest. But that choice means that you have allowed your money to be swept away from you this month and have it redirected toward the devout capitalists who operate those corporations. Again, this is not a slight against the system. I am simply describing to you how it works. 

Many of us are not entirely comfortable with how much money gets swept away from the 'many' and toward the 'some'.  We have a homeless problem in our nation, but local organizations including governments have no money to address it.  We have an opioid crisis  too, but there seems to be no money to assuage it. 13.9% of all New Yorkers live below the poverty level (that data seems low to me) and they can divert no money to help because it has all been swept away to go elsewhere. That's capitalism too. Through many paths and means, all of that capital lands in a bank accounts of a large US corporation, where it is invested. That's capitalism. 

Elon Musk is a devout that.

On any given day, the Sustainability Fund may also be invested in Tesla. I am sorry to break the news to you, but Elon has your retirement money. He's probably buying coffee with it right now. 

Unlike the rest of us regular capitalists out here running through our daily lives placing reasonable expectations on our local governments for things like garbage collection, schools and policing, devout capitalists are here to get paid. Those capitalists have your money so they can profit off of it by making great things that you can buy.

Hopefully. Whatever you're buying, there is someone else who can't afford it. 

Because this is how the whole system works, everything Elon does requires a profit in order for him to survive.  And that profit comes from people spending money on the things that he sells. That may be hard for folks to see at first. But go ahead and try join the EV revolution: The starting price for that is around $50,000. Why don't you buy some of that Starlink? The cost for that is $1300 per year with a $700 deposit. Want to go to Mars? Sure! That'll be $500,000, please. Welcome to the revolution.  The experts say that, soon, ChatGPT and tools like it will not be free eitherThat seems to make sense when you think about capitalism . But that locks people (namely the ones I work with) out of all of these possibilities.  That's capitalism.

Do you get it yet? This is the man who helped common folks sell things online.  This is the man who changed the automobile industry. This is the man who bought a space capsule home using rockets to land. 

And last week, his efforts with ChatGPT led the New York City Department of Education to divorce AI from its professional educators and students. That is the fruit of a tree that Elon has helped to plant. This historic innovation, which brings with it a profound statement of boundless exploration and hope for political, cultural and economic advancement, is now off limits for the seventy-four percent (74%) of city students who lived in poverty in 2018 (here). The DOE has run away from this as fast as they possibly can. (🍩). He's that guy too. 

And now he has brought that devout spirit of capitalism to Twitter. When he bought the company, he fired half of the employees. Many wound up being more loyal to the DNC than they were to Twitter (here). Shortly thereafter, he sold the blue dot for $8 per month. And just recently, he introduced a new product where, for a couple of hundred dollars (or less) users can easily boost views on their tweets and links.That last innovation brings that spirit of capitalism within eyesight of a core American value: Elon has capitalized free speech. 

And that's why I'm writing this series. This devout capitalist who has become the richest most impactful person in the country is selling something new: Your ability to be heard. That's a small but profound shift and part three will focus on that; on a possible reality where people cannot be heard because they cannot afford to. 

Before I write the lats part, though, I'm going to drop a few dollars to boost the reach of this blog post. I would like see just how much free speech money can buy me in this harsh economic environment.  

I'll leave off with a link to a song about Musk that my teenage kid listens to. The lyrics fully capture the complexities that Musks' many (many) shifts have wrought by addressing where those contributions are already falling short. 

🎵When I said take me to the moonI never meant take me aloneI thought if mankind toured the skyIt meant all of us could goBut I don't want to see the stars if they're justOne more piece of land for you to colonizeFor us to turn to sand
So f** your tunnels fuck your carsF** your rockets fuck your cars againYou promised you'd be TeslaBut you're just another EdisonBecause Tesla broke a patentAll you ever broke were hearts 
I can't believe you tore humanity apartWith the very same machines that could've been our brand new start


1 comment:

  1. No doubt Musk has been quite successful at turning a profit and no doubt he is quite concerned regarding the attempted suppression of free speech (in society and at Twitter).
    Two things can be true at the same time and his concern with the latter puts him squarely at odds with the progressive camp.
    Thus his rapid fall from (progressive) grace is readily explained.