Elon Musk is driving us into an era of mass delusion
Tesla is the poster child of cheap money absurdity. On Tuesday the electric car company’s market cap surged past $1 trillion, after Hertz — a once-bankrupt car rental company that fell into trouble during an almost global Covid-induced lockdown — announced it was investing in “the largest EV rental fleet in North America,” by acquiring “100,000 Teslas by the end of 2022”.
Hertz’s financial rescue came was a comic caper. In the heat of the Covid-19 panic phase back in 2020, the company was saved by none other than /r/WallStreetBets: the infamous subreddit of brazen retail investors hell-bent on finding the next stock that might go #ToTheMoon. Armed with excess “stimmy checks”, they bought up Hertz’s shares — while Wall Street elitists deemed these worthless, enabling the company to survive liquidation until two private equity firms saw a recent opportunity to “shake up an industry,” i.e. reviving a dying rental car company with cheap capital and turning it “green”.
This, however, was a slightly glossed-over narrative. The mainstream press presented this story as a heartwarming turnaround tale, one that could easily make it into the history books. Bloomberg Television’s chyron reading, “Tesla: 1st Junk Rated Company to Hit $1T Valuation,” provoked almost no adverse reaction from the entire Bloomberg Surveillance panel. It was normal, even rational, that a so-called innovative company barely making money without state support — and, of course, its Bitcoin gains — deserved a whopping twelve-figure valuation.
What coverage of the Tesla-Hertz hookup overlooked was a massive capital misallocation epidemic present in the economy created by ultra-cheap debt, zero interest rates, and moral hazard. It is, essentially, a plague on society of which Tesla has become the poster child.
As a result, fraud and sociopathy have been allowed to fester, with the wild history of Elon Musk still the most glaring example. Musk has committed securities fraud on multiple occasions. But uncomfortable revelations about the world’s wealthiest man are largely ignored. Musk’s backers — who appear to include regulators and much of the US establishment — don’t want to know about them. They’re desperate to greenwash his offences so they can protect their investments in Musk’s growing empire that, if authorities did their jobs properly, would have likely “gone to zero”.
To illustrate Musk’s “dark side”, and the dire consequences of propping up zombie corporations like Tesla, look no further than who we now call upon to answer complex societal problems. Consider four horsemen of the cheap money apocalypse — Elon Musk, ARK Invest CEO Cathie Wood, and two major Bitcoin advocates Michael Saylor and Jack Dorsey — discuss hyperinflation.
Here are four of the biggest beneficiaries of bailout capitalism, whose wealth, fame, and theories have been propped up, multiple times, by the Fed’s absurd interventionist policies, offering the worst thinking imaginable. “Three people who don’t understand either inflation or QE,” economist Frances Coppola said, “are very happy to pontificate about these to their millions of followers.”
If these are the so-called visionaries who will supposedly propel humankind into a new era of innovation and prosperity, no wonder scepticism has reached its apex. We appear to have entered an extreme period of illusion and deception. This is Nassim Taleb’s Fooled By Randomness, only on steroids.
Greg Barker is an independent journalist and quant, who also writes under the name Concoda. You can find him on Substack and Twitter at @concodanomics.