Elon Musk, true libertarian or pragmatic at the service of his interests?

Elon Musk mocks unions, flouts political correctness and champions minimalist government intervention, unsurprisingly drawing praise from conservatives.

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But he also smokes joints, likes to make appearances in Hollywood films and wonders aloud about the possibility of sending a nuclear bomb to Mars, which makes him an unlikely figurehead for the most traditionalists.

In a divided America, his opposition to the strict health rules imposed at the start of the pandemic is brandished as a sign of his conservatism. But the 50-year-old, divorced three times, also criticized certain immigration restrictions imposed by Donald Trump.

The world’s richest man has spoken out against President Joe Biden’s proposal to provide additional subsidies for vehicles from manufacturers employing unionized workers in the United States and even called for an end to all subsidies paid by the government. But he also eagerly sought state support for his ventures.

For investor James Hickman, founder of the libertarian-leaning newsletter Sovereign Man, Elon Musk represents a vital counterweight to the “tyranny of the minority”, an elite according to him made up of representatives of the worlds of tech, media and from academia.

“A true libertarian is someone who simply rejects all labels and thinks completely independently,” he told AFP.

If his political positions sometimes seem erratic, the interest of his companies comes first, several analysts have suggested.

But why would electric vehicle maker Tesla call for higher oil production then?

Political donations

Elon Musk describes himself as a “moderate” independent, even going so far as to call himself a “communist” seeking “the highest good of all”. He also decided in 2020 to leave California, where he criticized the business climate that was too harsh on companies, for Texas, where he criticized the recent anti-abortion laws.

He provided financial support to the governors of both states, a Democrat and a Republican.

He has donated money to Democratic stars Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Conservative House leader Kevin McCarthy, and the Republican Party.

Like Donald Trump, he does not hesitate to give insulting nicknames to figures of the American political establishment, borrowing for example from the former president the nickname “Sleeping Joe” to speak of Joe Biden.

And there is of course the question of freedom of expression, which he describes as “the bedrock of democracy”.

Allusion to Stalin

Elon Musk regularly complains that Twitter, which he is about to buy, goes too far in moderating content, which he describes as censorship. He went so far as to tweet a photo-montage depicting the general manager of the social network Parag Agrawal in the guise of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, a tweet which was not unpublished, thereby undermining his point a little.

He does not hesitate to display his contempt for journalists who publish critical articles on Tesla.

Elon Musk also threatened in half-words, in a tweet in 2018, not to pay stock options to Tesla employees seeking to make their voices heard by unionizing.

The automaker also forced employees to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from speaking with the media without written permission, without specifying that labor law protected them if they discussed their working conditions with journalists.

For Baruch Labunski, internet marketing expert, given the volume of “conflicting evidence”, it is probably “safer to describe Musk’s political positioning as + pragmatic +”.

“He is frequently referred to as a libertarian, but that designation does not accurately describe the man whose companies have benefited from tax breaks and business subsidies,” he told AFP.

For the consultant, Musk is “fundamentally interested in himself”.

“We don’t talk about his political positions because he is specifically sharp on the subject or because he highlights important issues for ordinary people”, remarks Baruch Labunski. “Musk can have fun in politics because he’s rich and he’s not shy about speaking his mind.”

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