Because much of this wealth is tied up in stock, society benefits not via compulsory redistribution, but rather through discretionary benevolence (i.e., charity) or else via the extent to which billionaires and their businesses have improved everyone else’s quality of life.
Jeff Bezos has been keen to emphasize how crucial Amazon was during the pandemic. Elon Musk is trying to get us to Mars. Google acts a second (much smarter) brain for everyone. And so on.
But when one combines the exponential nature of wealth creation in a capitalist system with modern market structure and embeds that self-feeding loop in a world that’s becoming more dependent on technology every day, the read-through is that these fortunes will become so large, so fast, that the people associated with them will become gods.
— “Gods” August 29, 2020
Four months after I penned those passages, the world’s 20 richest people closed the books on a year defined by human suffering with a combined net wealth gain of more than a half-trillion dollars in the space of just 12 months.
Shortly thereafter, in February of 2021, Musk began to accumulate wealth at an even more astounding pace. In the six weeks to February 15, he made more than $25 billion on paper, leapfrogging Bezos to become the world’s richest person.
Subsequently, Musk’s SpaceX (which Morgan Stanley suggested this month will one day make him a trillionaire) put four civilians into orbit and Bezos launched himself into suborbital space.
On Monday, October 25, 2021, not even 14 months after I wrote “Gods,” Musk’s net worth grew by more than $36 billion in a single day (figure below).
Thanks to Tesla’s Monday rally, Musk is now worth well in excess of a quarter trillion dollars.
There was more than a little irony in Tesla’s shares getting a boost from Hertz. Both companies were caught up in 2020’s summer stock mania. Hertz was bankrupt, but that didn’t stop legions of day-traders armed with spare time and stimulus checks from pouring money into the company’s ostensibly worthless equity. Around the same time, shares of Tesla went parabolic, in part due to the same retail investor frenzy.
Hertz was just four months removed from bankruptcy when it ordered 100,000 Teslas this week, vaulting Tesla into the $1 trillion market cap club and ahead of Facebook on the list of world’s most valuable companies (figure below).
The Hertz order marked the biggest ever purchase of electric vehicles and translated to more than $4 billion in revenue for Tesla.
The media spent Monday conjuring superlative after superlative — factoid after factoid. Musk is now personally worth more than Exxon, for example. Insult to injury was a smattering of headlines about “major employee attrition” at Exxon for which 2020 was a year to forget.
But just as the media’s narrow mandate produced dozens of predictable articles about “The Facebook Papers” while leaving the real story to the subtext, so too did the financial media largely miss the mark this week with regard to Musk.
There are two crucial points, the first of which I outlined here on Tuesday morning. Modern market structure can accelerate the wealth accumulation process. And not just due to near-term accelerant flows tied to, for example, options hedging. More importantly, the “perpetual motion machine” dynamics described by Howard Marks in 2017 make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. Marks suggested it might all end in tears (as he’s wont to do), but like the financial media, he seemed unable to connect the final dot or to otherwise draw the conclusions that actually matter from a societal perspective.
That brings me to the second crucial point, and also brings us full circle. Musk is becoming a demigod. It wasn’t so long ago that he wasted time sparring spitefully with the likes of David Einhorn on Twitter. Maybe he still does. Despite obtaining semi-divine status, Musk is still as petty as the most petulant teenager. In a way, that’s apt. The Greek gods were a petty, jealous bunch too.
But of what consequence is a David Einhorn to Elon Musk at this juncture? Or a Jeff Gundlach? Or a Jamie Dimon? Or even an entire investment bank? Morgan Stanley made $14.8 billion in revenue in the third quarter. Musk’s net worth grew by twice that in a matter of six hours Monday.
The dynamics outlined briefly above (and discussed at length in “Gods” and countless other articles published here over the past several years) will perpetuate themselves until a smaller and smaller group of people control a larger and larger share of the wealth.
Within five years, the Bloomberg Billionaires list won’t make much sense because everyone below the top 25 spots will be relative paupers. Within twenty years, it’s likely that the richest handful of people will own (or control) virtually all of the world’s wealth.
Do note: I don’t mean that in a Bernie Sanders-style “Let me extrapolate from some statistics about wealth concentration to rile you up” kind of way. Rather, I mean it in a very literal sense. It’s likely that within two decades, less than 10 people will control almost all of the wealth on the planet.
Invariably, they’ll be the same 10 people who control virtually all of the world’s data. Indeed, eight of the top 10 spots on Bloomberg’s list of the world’s wealthiest belong to tech founders, CEOs or former executives.
The takeaway is as simple as it is unnerving. We’re all becoming irrelevant. That’s the lesson from Musk’s blockbuster Monday.
So, the next time you hear someone say something like “David Einhorn is no better than me!”, tell them they’re right. We’re all equally irrelevant in the eyes of our lords.
16 thoughts on “Elon Musk And Our Future In Irrelevance”
Rage against the machine?
You’re right…the Greek gods were a petty, jealous bunch…and now they’re gone…
Money begets more money. Elon and his inventiveness, adept investments, aggressive and precise execution, and mindful management understands the opportunity available in our particular capitalist system.
Few think as deeply and broadly as Thomas Edison (or Elon Musk) and leverage the systems of our economy as successfully. Most business leaders and investors alike explore a smaller scope of possibilities and cultivate smaller successes.
The relative value of a dollar changes over time. And over the course of time the distance between wealth and poverty only grows. Considering Elon’s enterprises in Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and the Boring Company, I can only imagine that his wealth will only grow to levels that are even more out of proportion to what the rest of us can imagine. What’s to stop him, but tripping over himself? But even then, life is a big experiment that enables learning and refines efficiency and success.
Musk wants one thing and one thing only:
to help humanity leapfrog forward in development by decades, in as many areas as he possibly can drag us.
Tesla – electric cars would still be decades in the future without Tesla
SpaceX – we have been using Russian Soyuz capsule and rockets to get to the space station for the past decade, ever since the space shuttle was retired. Our space program was completely stalled until SpaceX and their (impossible) re-usable rockets came along. Ultimately SpaceX and Mars is Musk’s idea of giving humanity a chance of survival in case of some calamity (nukes, climate change, asteroid, pandemic). He could very well not live to see us get to Mars. Heck, humanity may not survive until we get to Mars.
Starlink – network of satellites to provide internet access to every corner of the world
Neuralink – another impossible project, brain-computer interface, to get us to AI-like status before computers gain sentience… or something like that
Boring Company – dig tunnels to provide fast transportation, or maybe build cities underground? purpose unclear
It’s not about the money.
He is an engineer with the most amazing capacity for understanding, analyzing, holding and accessing knowledge and taking ideas and concepts and making them real. He is an insane workaholic. He has put all of whatever financial resources he has on the line over and over to keep his projects going. He has CREATED things that everyone said were impossible again and again.
And STILL he gets lumped in with the likes of Bezos and talked about like he just another schmuck billionaire out for himself. Couldn’t be further from the truth. If he is a demi-god it is because he is a Maker, not because he has billions.
Easy there Elon…….. Nice pseudonym by the way?
I’m a little bit less dithyrambic and I wouldn’t look down on Bezos’ inventiveness either but I agree that humanity owes Elon a big fat thank you. And, to be fair, he’s getting it – richest person on Earth. In capitalism, that’s the best we can do.
I think that you just effectively illustrated the point of the “god” part of the article. I’m waiting for the First Church of Elon…
Some of these billionaires, during their lifetime and beyond, might be better at allocating their capital for the betterment of mankind and of Earth than any government, political group, or elected/authoritarian leaders that exists now or in the future could ever do.
Bill Gates, probably even Elon Musk, and hopefully others, will do something good and important with long lasting positive implications. Just cut right through the red tape of governments and political parties and do it. Their legacy, more so than any government leaders, will be that they used their wealth to fund ideas and projects that improve life for all on the planet Earth.
If how he treated the native Hawaiian lands and existing laws when he bought property on Kauai is any indication, then probably not Zuckerberg.
The most important skill for achieving great success in America is the ability to convince other Americans, and yourself, that you are a genius.
“Invariably, they’ll be the same 10 people who control virtually all of the world’s data.”
And this right here is exactly the point. Everyone is giving away their personal data for free to get access to applications that provide very little, if any, ROI. That data is actually incredibly valuable and is driving this massive wealth expansion. It should give all of us pause to evaluate how much value we assign to our own personal data. And should we be as willing to just give it up for free like we have? Granted, it’s more difficult to get access to the goods and services we want if we swim against the stream and try not to give that data away. It’s definitely something that doesn’t get enough attention from media, how we are the product in this data driven world and how valuable our data actually is.
The problem is that one individual’s data, on its own, is basically worthless. No company cares to market to a single individual.
Perhaps there is an untapped market for a peer to peer data brokering service?
We didn’t need kings in 1776, and we don’t need them now either.
Let the billionaires pay their fair share in taxes right now. Mark to market now.
Colonies on Mars is the second stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. God help you if the little bubble that you live in gets a crack. If you wanted to live underground, you could have done it right here.
The pump on Tesla stock is remarkable. Very cult like. Elon can do no wrong. The market cap gain on Tesla stock was in one day was greater than the entire value of Hertz. Hertz buying some cars should not have moved Tesla stock that much, but you can’t fight a religion.
One thing the pandemic taught us is that maybe people don’t need to commute as much. People can work from home or closer to home if they choose to. Trust me, that fact is NOT incorporated into Tesla stock price.
Surprised Musk hasn’t declared himself a religion so all his assets and income would be tax-exempt. Mars is just a stupid idea. All the resources required to get to and colonize Mars could completely rebuild Earth. Seems like a better idea to me. Musk does say he wants to die on Mars. Maybe he could talk those ten rich guys to go with him and stay.
American’s love technology, just about as much as they love tearing down the creators of it.
It is uncanny how the less one knows about science or engineering the more one feels qualified, almost required, to hate. Give some room to those smarter or more creative than you to lift up their heads and dream. Believe it or not they will take you along in their trains/cars/airplane…electric cars and spaceships.
Does anyone understand what it takes to design and build a rocket that takes off AND lands, to be reused rather than allowed to burn up upon reentry into the atmosphere? This had never been done, let alone imagined as possible, before SpaceX. Even NASA , Boeing and Neil Armstrong didn’t think SpaceX could do it.
I am sure there were just as many criticizing our going to the Moon as there now are criticizing Musk’s Mars mission – which by the way has been adopted by NASA as if they were planning it all along.
Anyone can dream. I can dream too.
It’s easy to envision a scenario in which going to space to mine minerals could be profitable. And worthwhile. And entirely automated.
The only reason to go to Mars is to say that you did it. You don’t actually want to live there. Trust me. You don’t. It’s a cold black radiated hell. The lack of gravity would cause your bones and muscles to waste away, and that’s assuming the radiation hadn’t killed you because you’re at least 500 ft underground. Going there is one thing. Living there is the height of insanity.
The only difference between Musk’s dreams and your dreams, is that he has hundreds of billions of dollars behind him. Otherwise, we’re all dreaming the same thing.