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Oligarch of the Month: Elon Musk

The Silicon Valley magnate's vision is less futuristic—and more solipsistic—than it seems.

Sarah Lee/eyevine/Redux

Casting himself as a cross between Willy Wonka and a run-of-the-mill Bond villain, Elon Musk has spent his adult life trying to convince the least cool people in the world that he is the coolest person ever. He spends much of his time pandering to Reddit bros and Rick and Morty fans on social media; the rest is spent bankrolling a series of futuristic transportation endeavors.

There’s Tesla, the luxury electric car company that has never been consistently profitable, and SpaceX, which is expected to begin taking astronauts to the International Space Station this year. Two years ago, when 12 small schoolchildren were trapped in a Thai cave, Musk rushed in with a plan to build a tiny submarine that would ferry them to safety. When one of the British divers who eventually helped rescue the children pointed out that Musk was turning the crisis into a publicity stunt, the billionaire called him a “pedo guy.”

He seemingly can’t resist the impulse to make everything, at all times, about himself. Recently, he got into serious trouble with the SEC for tweeting that he would be taking Tesla private, at $420 a share—only Musk could violate securities law and make a juvenile nod to stoner culture simultaneously. He has also made a number of false or misleading claims about SolarCity, his struggling green energy company. The messianic Musk had wanted to oversee the first vertically integrated clean energy company; instead, he created a fiasco that is threatening Tesla, the cornerstone of his empire.

Musk tends to make things that either are useless or have existed as public utilities for decades. When he unveiled Tesla’s Cybertruck—an oblong metallic pickup that looks like it was designed by Homer Simpson—last year, its “shatterproof windows” promptly shattered. In 2018, Musk laid out another brilliant invention, the Hyperloop, saying that it would feature thousands of “small stations the size of a single parking space that take you very close to your destination & blend seamlessly into the fabric of a city”—or, as it’s also known, a bus stop. There’s nothing “public” about Musk’s fanciful approach to public transportation. If he had his way, wealthy, comfortable people would never have to rub elbows with anyone less well off than themselves.