In his New York Times Editorial commentary, published on November 16 and titled “Do you want to save the Earth?” We need a lot more Elon Musks, âjournalist and opinion columnist Thomas Friedman says capitalist entrepreneurs, who plug into valid and reliable scientific methodologies and research, can solve climate change problems that plague our planet.
While he values ââgrassroots activists and recognizes that “we need a few more Greta Thunbergs,” Friedman argues that we also need “a lot more Elon Musk” to do it. However, the evidence for Musk’s commitment to environmentally harmful business practices and wealth hoarding shows otherwise.
Related: Billionaire Richard Branson’s Space Flight Was Expensive. You paid the price and didn’t know it.
Friedman acknowledges that the capitalist system has already contributed to the problem, as the government has given large subsidies to oil companies to extract toxic chemicals from the ground, resulting in the human-made global crisis that is endangering all life. on the planet.
He therefore promotes the perspective that if “we can begin to reshape capitalism” itself, arrest and potentially reverse Earth’s environment and climate to a more natural state by what Friedman calls “the best of American capitalism” .
“We will only get there when Father Profit and the entrepreneurs at risk produce transformative technologies that will allow ordinary people to have extraordinary impacts on our climate without sacrificing too much – by simply being good consumers of these new technologies,” said writes Friedman.
He continued, âWe need to re-energize our innovation ecosystem where government funds basic research that pushes the boundaries of physics, chemistry and biology, and then combines that innovation with immigration policies that amass them. the world’s best engineering talent pools, then unleash that talent – powered by risk takers – to invent new clean technologies to slow global warming at the speed and scale we need. “
While this is all well and good, Friedman’s “redesign”[ing of] capitalism âdoes not go deep enough and far enough. He fails to question the massive inequality of wealth that greatly benefits mega-corporations and the few multi-billionaires like Elon Musk. This system prevents the entry of talents who lack financial resources to engage in this risky entrepreneurship.
While the economy has been performing extremely well for the super-rich lately, household incomes have hardly increased or increased only modestly for the majority of residents of the United States during this century. The reasons are many: the massive technological changes that have made human labor obsolete, the decline of unions, the erosion of the value of the minimum wage and globalization, which often diverts jobs abroad.
Regarding the richest 5% of employees, their income jumped over the same period. The Pew Research Center found that âhigh-income families were the only income level capable of leveraging their wealth from 2001 to 2016, adding 33% to the median. In contrast, middle-income families saw their median net worth decline by 20% and low-income families suffered a loss of 45%.
In the United States, the richest 1% of the population has accumulated about 34.6% of the wealth. The next 9% of top earners accumulated around 38.5%, while the nation’s remaining 90% accounted for a combined accumulation of only 26.9%.
The major financial rewards only went to 400 people, increasing the combined income of the rich in 2020 during the pandemic to $ 3.2 trillion, an increase of $ 240 billion from 2019. Those same 400 people have accumulated more wealth than the bottom 50% of the US population combined.
Some families have the privilege of buying two, or three, or four, or five, or even six houses – which they visit occasionally depending on their mood at the moment, as the rest of us choose which pair of underwear wear for the day. Meanwhile, many of our people, including young people, find themselves homeless.
Let’s dive into Musk and his business practices, as Friedman specifically singled out him. Take this into account, as reported ProPublica: “Musk, who had actual taxable income of $ 1.52 billion over the five-year period, paid no federal income tax in 2018.”
We can assess his efforts to save our planet from the destructive effects of climate change, but I must warn you, however, you will need to don your toxin-resistant full-body suits and gas masks.
Let’s take a look at his SpaceX Starship spacecraft first. Darrell Etherington from TechCrunch asked Musk about them in a Twitter interview. Musk said “the spacecraft is designed with the intention of making it fly an average of three flights per day, each carrying over 100 tonnes of payload per flight, for a total of over 1,000 flights per year, per vehicle”.
In the same interview, Musk mentioned that he plans to build a fleet of 1,000 of these space vehicles by the end of this decade.
According to the Energy Consulting Group, each SpaceX spacecraft and thruster launch will require approximately 1,000 tonnes of methane in the form of liquefied natural gas. âThis works out to about 150 mmscfd per spacecraft, or about 150 billion cubic feet of methane / natural gas per day (bcfd) for a fleet of 1,000 rockets. 150 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas is roughly equivalent to 25 million barrels of oil per day, âthe group found. “… Essentially, Mr. Musk suggests that US demand for natural gas could increase dramatically over the next 10 years or so due to the activity of SpaceX.”
For Musk’s Tesla automobiles, he announced an agreement with Glencore, one of the world’s largest commodities trading companies, to purchase cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo for Tesla lithium-ion batteries. Although Musk plans to someday use safer materials for his batteries, current reports indicate that exposure to pollutants from these cobalt mines significantly increases the risk of serious birth defects in children, including limb abnormalities and spina bifida.
In addition, Musk has put the price of his cars out of the reach of low-income people, and he maintains non-union factories. It is certainly not a way to “restructure capitalism”.
Thanks in large part to its SpaceX division, Musk could potentially become the world’s largest trillionaire, further widening the income and wealth gap.
So yes, we are seeing a redistribution of wealth in the United States – but certainly not in a fair way. Workers create goods and services through work that is detached and alienated from their personal lives and interests, thus amassing inordinate wealth for owners and managers.
Few people really âsucceedâ when millions of people have been excluded from the economy. Few people really âsucceedâ when people don’t have the money to spend on goods and services in stores owned and operated by the rich.
Rather than looking to mega-corporations and billionaires like Musk to get us out of the climate crisis through the inherently flawed system of monopoly capitalism, we need to make our tax system fairer. As the system now exists, taxpayers subsidize the rich to build and promote their creations at the expense of the rest of us.
Several Democrats in Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have proposed raising taxes on the super-rich.
Sanders and Warren have called for a total annual wealth tax of 3% exceeding $ 1 billion and an annual wealth tax of 2% on household and trust net worth of $ 50 million to $ 1 billion.
The chance that such a “wealth tax” will actually be passed is practically nil, due to the lobbying and winning of the super-rich for their legislative puppets in Congress.
Still, Musk, who holds the world’s highest net wealth, firmly resists paying his fair share of taxes.
When Sanders tweeted, “We must demand that the extremely rich pay their fair share.” Full stop, “Musk was so offended by the idea that he responded offensively,” I always forget you’re still alive “and asserted that” Sanders is a taker, not a maker. “
We must demand that the extremely rich pay their fair share. Period.
– Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 13, 2021
I keep forgetting that you’re still alive
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 14, 2021
I agree with Thomas Friedman that we need to “reshape capitalism”. But I no longer wish to see Elon Musks, or Bill Gateses, or Richard Bransons, or Jeff Bezoses, or more billionaires polluting space.
On the contrary, I want to see real opportunities for all those who have the talent and the desire to create more partnerships between themselves and companies with science. I want to see a fairer and more equitable tax system.
So, really âreshaping capitalismâ. But we’ll need a parcel more Greta Thunbergs and away less Elon Musks to do so.