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Holman W. Jenkins Jr: The Savior Elon Musk

Musk-photo-patrick-fallon-wsj

Tesla’s impresario is right about one thing: Humanity’s preservation is a legitimate government interest

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. writes: There is often a large difference between what people imagine they are doing and what they are actually doing. Especially in politics, any relationship between the effect of policy, the goal of policy and the stated goal is often incidental to the point of randomness.

“He’s not the first to suggest that dramatically reducing the cost of earth orbit is a key to future space endeavors. He isn’t the only dot-com millionaire to turn his attention to space.”

Adding to the complexity, the doers themselves are often confused about the relationship between rhetoric and reality.

Which naturally brings us to a new biography of Elon Musk, whose entrepreneurial energy is a marvel; the world would be better off if there were more like him, even if a “nonstop horrible” childhood was a precursor to his adult achievements. That said, the “change the world” stuff, let alone the “save humanity” stuff, that fills Ashlee Vance’s admired “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is a tad overdone.

spaceX

“If he succeeds, though, in delivering his cheap, reusable heavy-lift vehicle, vast new possibilities will open up. Fifty years from now if there are hotels and factories in orbit, they may well be SpaceX hotels and factories.”

Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House roof. GM rolled out its EV1 electric car in 1996. Mr. Musk has been selling back to affluent, middle-aged baby boomers their own youthful ideals in the shape of roof panels and plug-in cars.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

These items sell not because the moment is ripe to transition the world economy to solar but as vanity trinkets for the rich that even the rich wouldn’t buy without a large helping of taxpayer money.

Artist's concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)

Artist’s concept of the new SpaceX Dragon, which may one day fly from Brownsville, Texas (Image: SpaceX)

“If a human outpost materializes on Mars, it may well be a SpaceX outpost.”

Yes, Mr. Musk deserves credit for organizing his enterprises and getting them off the muskground. The bureaucratic obstacles to starting a car business are especially daunting. And his Tesla Model S is a lovely object and wonderful machine.

[Order Ashlee Vance’s book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” from Amazon.com]

Nowhere in Mr. Vance’s book, though, does the figure $7,500 appear—the direct taxpayer rebate to each U.S. buyer of Mr. Musk’s car. You wouldn’t know that 10% of all Model S cars have been sold in Norway—though Tesla’s own 10-K lists the possible loss of generous Norwegian tax benefits as a substantial risk to the company.

Barely developed in passing is that Tesla likely might not exist without a former State Department official whom Mr. Musk hired to explore “what types of tax credits and rebates Tesla might be able to drum up around its electric vehicles,” which eventually would include a $465 million government-backed loan.

And how Tesla came by its ex-Toyota factory in California “for free,” via a “string of fortunate turns” that allowed Tesla to float its IPO a few weeks later, is just a thing that happens in Mr. Vance’s book, not the full-bore political intrigue it actually was….(read more)

WSJ

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