- - Tuesday, May 3, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Billionaire Elon Musk manipulates government to extract billions more for himself.

He is the child of an illicit relationship between business and politics just as Pearl was the child of Hester Prynne and the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale in National Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

Unfortunately, Elon Musk is no unicorn.

As railroad robber baron, William Henry Vanderbilt shamelessly sneered, “The public be damned,” after the railroad industry had extracted huge government grants to build the Transcontinental Railroad, Mr. Musk presumably chuckles, “Let the public be fleeced,” when he glows over the $4.9 billion he has received in government subsidies to support his three politically ne plus ultra companies: Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies, known as Space X.

And as Marie Antoinette advised the starving, “Let them eat cake,” Mr. Musk figuratively sermonizes to the sans-culottes, “Let them earn a Golden Fleece Award” by the standards of former Senator William Proxmire (D-Wis.).

Business parasites of government like billionaire Musk have a long and sordid history. Think, for example, of the British East India Company, whose government monopoly provoked the Boston Tea Party.

It seems paradoxical that billionaire and government subsidized Musk evokes the adulation of the left like the paradox of Donald Trump commanding the veneration of the religious right despite his industrial scale debaucheries and vulgarities. But there may be a rational explanation for the Musk paradox. He champions the pet causes of limousine liberals. Although the causes accomplish nothing, by supporting Mr. Musk the left feels they are making a marvelous contribution towards saving mankind from doomsday in the manner of the placebo effect.

Telsa Motors promises to diminish global warming with battery powered vehicles. SolarCity promises the same by generating energy from solar panels for well-healed customers. And Space X excites the uber-rich by promising outer space travel that will evoke the euphoria of seeming omnipotence over the elements.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Space X has won more than $5.5 billion in government contracts from the characteristically profligate NASA and the U.S. Air Force. New York State is spending $750 million to build a solar panel factory in Buffalo for SolarCity coupled with a property tax exemption worth an estimated $260 million. The company received approximately $500 million in direct grants from the United States Treasury. Other government favors for Musk’s triptych of government supported enterprises jump the total value to $4.9 billion.

Mr. Musk is an earmark of our national decay. He has attained billionaire-celebrity status by enlisting government to pursue risk-free wealth. He is neither an Horatio Alger hero nor a Thomas Edison. An economic system that eliminates risk, however, will ultimately yield stagnation and a bail-out state symbolized by the scandalous trillion dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to rescue the financially prodigal from their financial extravagances. All experience teaches that risk is a stimulus, and risklessness is a narcotic to efficiency and innovation.

When the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System dotes on banks with interest free loans, the power elite call it economic statesmanship and long-headed wisdom. When the Board refrains from insisting on home mortgage forgiveness as a condition to receiving lavish TARP largesse, the power elite call it enlightened austerity necessary to deter reckless borrowing. This nauseating double-standard hearkens back to Anatole France’s derisive observation: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Double-standards for acquiring wealth threaten free enterprise by undermining the legitimacy of income inequality derived from equal opportunity. In other words, income inequality will be generally accepted politically and socially if everyone plays by the same rules so no one can gripe about the fairness of the results.

Shouldn’t the Koch brothers create an annual Elon Musk Fleecing Government Award to stigmatize wealth begotten from the hijacking of government to obtain risk-free riches?


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