Wednesday, June 8, 2022


Unstable systems are dangerous as they are unpredictable.

The Elon Musk saga goes on, and one starts to wonder, is this guy crazy as a fox or just crazy?  On the one hand, it appears that Tesla is about to lose its virtual monopoly on electric vehicles (or has already lost it) as worldwide manufacturers gear up to make better examples of the cars he the company pioneered.  The ugly-as-sin "Cybertruck" is slated to begin production in 2024 or 2025. Meanwhile, Ford and Chevy are already in production with their versions of e-trucks.  Ford is even thinking of copying Tesla's idea of direct-to-customer sales.  Ford has a better idea - copy someone else's.

Tesla and Musk have relied on government handouts from day one.  Granted, so has the petroleum industry and the car industry in general.  While railroads have to pay for trackage and their rights-of-way, the car companies get free roads, courtesy of the US Government and the oil companies get dirt-cheap leases to drill for oil.  Tesla scored twice with Uncle Sugar - with $7500 tax subsidies on sales of electric cars, and with carbon credits that could be sold to other, more polluting, carmakers for cash.   The $7500 tax subsidies ran out for all Tesla models - but still remains for other manufacturers new to the game.

So you see where Musk is going - he needs an "in" with the Federal Government to squelch tax credits for his competitors - long after he benefited from them.  Democrats are not only willing to extend tax credits, they wanted to increase them to $12,500 per car.  So what better way to get the ear of government than to buy Twitter, reinstate Trump, and help him (or his anointed successor) get elected?  Politics makes strange bedfellows.

It is a scene right out of Atlas Shrugged.  Some people compete in the marketplace on their merits, others compete for government favors and subsidies - and squelch those who try to compete on their merits.   Maybe Musk read Ayn Rand and came away with all the wrong ideas.  Then again, Ayn Rand wrote all those silly novels and still came away with the wrong ideas.  Maybe Musk wants to be the new John Gault, but we've all forgotten what that was all about - if it ever meant anything.

The other explanation for Musk's bizarre behavior is just craziness - and perhaps drug use.  One day he wants to buy Twitter, the next day he says he doesn't - both apparently on a whim.  He decries the armies of "bots" on Twitter (conveniently ignoring his own) and then says there aren't that many.  (It may be true that only 5% of users are bots, but they may make up 50% of tweets and upvotes).  One day he is a rabid Democrat, the next day, a Rabid Trumper.  One day he is laying off 10% of the workforce, the next day, not.   One day he says everyone has to come back to the office, the next day, maybe not so much (particularly after the German unions told him to fuck off).  He is all over the map and the instability is what concerns shareholders and employees.

Drug use is one possible explanation.   Cocaine is a helluva drug, and as Steve Martin once said (or was it Richard Pryor?), "One hit of cocaine makes you feel like a new man.  And the first thing a new man wants is another hit of cocaine!"  Amphetamines have a similar addictive quality - the problem with both drugs being that they make you feel invincible and what's more, whatever you do is right.  It is the drug of choice for narcissists, and if you aren't a narcissist before you take up coke or meth, well, you will become one.  This makes it a very difficult drug to kick, as your use of the drug makes you feel that anything you do is "right" and thus when people tell you to go to rehab, you say, "NO, No, no!"

That is also the problem with being uber-rich, if you'll pardon the pun.  Once you have billions of dollars, you think you can do no wrong and can do whatever the hell you want to.  Fly down to Jeffry Epstein's private island and bang 15-year-old girls?  No problem!  Who's going to say bubkis about it?  And if they do, your lawyer will pay them off and make them sign an NDA.   (AFAIK, Musk has yet to do that, but he's done every other despicable Billionaire thing).  We saw this sort of thing with Michael Jackson.  We saw it with Elvis.  We are seeing it with Vladimir Putin.   Surrounded with yes-men to afraid to call out bullshit, lest they lost their position (or in the case of Putin, their life!) the rich guy doesn't get any negative feedback about his crazy ideas - whether it is having young boys sleep over, shooting out the television while eating peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwiches, or trying to start WWIII while dying of cancer.

And maybe right there is the real problem with wealth inequality - once people rise above a certain level of wealth, they don't feel they have to answer to anyone - their spouse (disposed of in a divorce with a prenuptial agreement), the government (bribed with campaign donations), the police (outfoxed by clever lawyers), or even their own customers, employees, and the general public (bamboozled by bots and trolls on the internet hired to groom their image). They have literally become the new aristocracy in America - and like the Samuari of old Japan, can decapitate a peasant if they so much as look at them wrong.  Trump wasn't lying about shooting someone on 5th Avenue - or "grabbing them by the pussy."  When you are rich and famous you can get away with it.  It is the second-tier schmucks that get caught out in the game - like that sad sack of shit, Avenatti.

So the jury is out on Musk - does he have some secret plan behind all this apparent instability in his life, or is he just crazy or on drugs?   In part, it doesn't really matter, as the business world favors stability and predictability in the markets.  Unless you are the one manipulating the market, you want things to be predictable.  You set out to design and sell a product and you set a price for it.  You don't want the cost of one critical component to skyrocket after you've already contracted to sell the finished product for what is now, a loss.

The hedge funds shorting "Gamestop" thought they had a sure thing - an old brick-and-mortar company that was the Blockbuster Video of gaming, was sure to go belly-up during the pandemic.  But some kids on the Internet started buying the stock and upset their carefully-laid plans!   Of course, it is hard to feel sorry for a hedge fund manager - they were the ones trying to manipulate the market in the first place.

I mentioned before that it is entirely possible that the "world's richest man" might end up in bankruptcy court - and maybe that fear is what is driving Musk.  He is living on margin loans as he is cash-poor.  His vaunted wealth is based on share price of Tesla - and if he sells any of that stock, the share price tanks, as it recently has.  He sees the plethora of electric vehicles coming out from every manufacturer on the planet (as well as a dozen or so new ones).  Many are better made, many are priced more competitively, most have an established dealer network.  He blazed the trail, others benefit from his work.  The man blazing the trail often ends up being found dead alongside it.  Ask any Vietnam veteran why they didn't want to be "on point" marching through the jungle.

The rocket business is another example of government largess perhaps backfiring.  While Space-X was first to market with a workable alternative to the Soyuz in this post-shuttle era, Boeing and Blue Origin are not far behind.  And the government, not wanting to "single source" launch capability (particularly when it is in the hands of an apparently unstable individual) has given Boeing and Bezos a lot of latitude (and subsidies) to bring their rockets up to snuff.

And as for the giant rockets flying out of the Southern tip of Texas, it is anyone's guess as to what that is all about.   Yes, they can go straight up and come straight down, without blowing up, most of the time.  But does that get you into Earth orbit - or to the moon or Mars?   It will be interesting to see where that goes, but the secrecy surrounding the "Starship" rocket (oddly enough, similar to the name Boeing is using for their space capsule) is almost cult-like.

If the instability of Musk follows any sort of pattern, by this time next year, he will become a raging far-left Democrat, come out as transgender, and decide to start selling diesel-powered Humvees.  I mean, at this point, just about anything is possible, except stability.