Guest Opinion: Man who made $300 billion selling products subsidized by government says government should not subsidize anything anymore

Posted by on December 17th, 2021 at 11:10 am

Musk in the WSJ.

There’s a Dutch saying that goes something like: “Government forced cars on us. Now we need the government to get rid of cars so then we can get rid of the government.” Last week, Elon Musk (who looked a lot like the villian from The Fifth Element) gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he laid out a hypocritical view of the government’s role in transportation. The government, he claimed, should not be subsidizing anything. Asked about the Democrats’ transportation and social bill, he said it would be better if they did not pass.

Mr. Musk can correctly point out that if he hadn’t run an electric car company, it would have taken longer for electric cars to be a thing. But he cannot take all the credit. In Norway, electric cars make up 20% of all cars on the road, and accounted for 90% of cars bought last month. Norway stands out in this achievement compared to other countries because they offer massive government subsidies for electric cars. The first and fourth top selling cars in Norway are Teslas.

In the interview, Mr. Musk went on to say that the government shouldn’t give any subsidies to anyone for anything, including fossil fuels. The role of the government should only be to “referee” the market. His argument is that society would move better without the force of the government interfering in the market. In the same interview he also called for double-decker freeways and tunnels to counter “extreme traffic”.

In so many ways, the costs of cars are passed on to others. A “free market” does not take this into account.

This got me thinking about what our society would look like if we completely stopped subsidizing cars. From parking mandates that require you build a certain number of car parking spaces, to single-detached zoning which makes everything far away and requires most people to have to own a car to get around, to the social subsidy from a loss of community and isolation. What is the cost of our children’s lost freedom because cars are always threatening them? In so many ways, the costs of cars are passed on to others. A “free market” does not take this into account.

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If we did get to a place where people paid the true cost of cars, I think we would have a much better society. I would also bet that a lot more people would ride bicycles in cities, because they are simply the best way to get around.

By calling attention to government subsidies, Musk is calling attention to all the ways our society pays for driving. Many years ago, I was waiting in line to testify against the original Columbia River Crossing bridge and talking with a self-described libertarian whose entire car was covered in Ron Paul stickers. He could not see that this massive public freeway project he was about to testify in favor of was the government interfering in the market. In the end, I guess most of us are just self-interested and can only reason so far.

In a society as complex as ours, having a representative democracy that can at least try to account for these costs might be the best solution we have. Yes, let’s subsidize electric bikes! Yes, let’s build double-decker bike lanes! Both have many positive social outcomes that are not accounted for by markets. In the long run, both of these things will make us less reliant on the government and better people too.

There is a better way to move ourselves than only in cars. But it will require a lot more good government to get us there. In the long run, we will build an urban bike utopia because cars, even electric ones, require too many finite resources. Also in the long run we will all be dead from climate change. So, before that happens let’s use good government policy to make this world a nicer place to live!

Got an opinion? Email jonathan@bikeportland.org and we’ll consider posting it here.

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Clem Fandango
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Clem Fandango

That’s an interesting stat regarding electric cars in Norway. Interesting because they pay for all those electric cars with their North Sea oil money.

Mike Owens
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Mike Owens

Kiel, look to the true evil in the world please. We subsidize oil $11M per minute. Oil companies and their billionaires own the GOP, infiltrated our govt, skewed voting and sent our tax payer $ and kids to oil wars. It’s time to stop belittling the few folks doing something to stop them. The Dems sure aren’t. We’re going to need all options, fast as possible. Musk here was referring specifically to the Dem bribe of UAW in EV incentives. HE DOESN’T WANT EV INCENTIVES EITHER. Full context is important, there are legions of sullied interests spreading as much marketing/disinformation/FUD as possible about those and the things disrupting them.

Watts
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Watts

The problem with this sort of conversation is that what counts as a “subsidy” is impossible to agree upon. Some people will list things like the military, “single family housing” and “children’s lost freedom” as subsidies for cars, which strikes me as a specious attempt to make a point by defining terms.

Ultimately, this discussion is tiring because it’s about definitions and line drawing, rather than the more interesting issue about making good public policy, or ways we can, in practice, internalize the many costs we externalize as a society.

And yes, Musk can take a huge amount of credit for transforming the way Americans see electric cars (you don’t think the Norwegians did that, do you?). You may not like his politics (I don’t), but he has done more good for the world than almost anyone else.

cmh89
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cmh89

I know that Musk nor his stans have any shame but of all his hypocritical positions, arguing the government shouldn’t incentivize certain products has got to be his worst. Absolute joke of a human being.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

He’s basically a parody at this point. I’d suggest he play himself on SNL, but he’s already done that…

PS
Guest
PS

His position now is literally the most rational position he can take. If you are competing with the big three, two of which we have subsidized at one time or another to a great extent, then why would he want to assist his competition in getting a benefit he does not?

I can’t imagine considering someone an “absolute joke of a human being” who managed to create a car company in California that actually produces cars in California at a price that people all over the country can buy. When people take this position I always wonder how many pairs of Nike’s they own. What would Oregonians say about Phil Knight if instead of paying for a cancer institute he had shoes made by Oregonians instead of children in SE Asia.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I can’t imagine considering someone an “absolute joke of a human being” who managed to create a car company in California that actually produces cars in California at a price that people all over the country can buy.

He didn’t create Tesla, he bought it. The cars his company produces are only ‘affordable’ because of massive federal welfare and even then are far too expensive for most working class Americans to afford. Electric vehicle subsidies are literally just wealth transfers to the rich.

When people take this position I always wonder how many pairs of Nike’s they own. What would Oregonians say about Phil Knight if instead of paying for a cancer institute he had shoes made by Oregonians instead of children in SE Asia.

Phil Knight has received tons of criticism. I’m not sure what rock you’ve been hiding under.

Caleb
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Caleb

“When you talk about truly affordable cars, which Tesla has yet to make—their $35,000 Model 3, nowhere to be found. $35,000 is the median new car price in the U.S. Actually, it’s gone up a little bit to about $40,000. Tesla has never made a car in the bottom half of the average price range of American cars. It’s not just that they don’t have their operational efficiency or the design chops to do it, which I think is a big part of it. But also because the values that have succeeded so well for Tesla are unique to the premium segment. And it’s like a Jaguar or a Ferrari. These are not the most reliable cars, the most efficient cars, the easiest cars to repair, the most affordable total cost of ownership, any of those things. But they’re Ferrari and Jaguar. They play in a premium segment.”

-https://www.currentaffairs.org/2022/01/exposing-the-fraudulence-of-elon-musk-and-tesla

PdxPhoenix
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PdxPhoenix

In the end, I guess most of us are just self-interested and can only reason so far.

This sums up everything about humans. I think it so sad that most people just seem incapable of seeing any farther than their fingertips.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Is Musk saying it’s okay for government to tax the rich?

jason walker
Guest
jason walker

I have a Tesla Model 3, but I bought it in 2019 before Elon showed his true colors of being a complete jerk. I’ll never buy another Tesla.

PS
Guest
PS

It must be exhausting doing all the due diligence on the behaviors of each CEO of each company you purchase things from.

soren
Guest
soren

A simple rule of thumb is to avoid buying from USAnian firms.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

Sure is…but what’s your point?

soren
Guest
soren

It looks like there will be no subsidy for Teslas or e-bikes:

“If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it. And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t,” Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is a no on this legislation.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-19/manchin-says-no-to-biden-agenda-blaming-inflexible-democrats

Mark
Guest
Mark

It’s incredible to me people are buying into the big lie that electric cars are the best route. See dynamite tesla for reference. I can buy a small car today, use it for 200K miles or even more, change out the engine for perhaps 5K along with the transmission and run it for 100K miles more or even more. Depending on the rest of the car (which is the same with electric) it could run for a quarter century.

An electric battery today Tesla charges 23K for a replacement. We told you so. E cars are just a more expensive version for car makers to charge more and entrap better.

Congrats America. Meet the new boss. A whole more expensive than the old boss.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Maybe it’s not “the big lie”. Maybe different people have different needs which are served by different solutions. I expect most Tesla buyers are aware of the battery issue.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

Maybe they are aware, but maybe they also have banked on a fraudulent “battery-swap” concept: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2022/01/exposing-the-fraudulence-of-elon-musk-and-tesla