by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 30
September 2021

Listen to Elon Musk, not Keir Starmer

The Tesla founder doesn't hide behind bland PR statements
by Peter Franklin

You probably don’t have a spare hour to listen to Keir Starmer’s conference speech in full. But just in case to you do, let me urge to listen to Elon Musk instead. 

Appearing at the Code conference this week, his interview with Kara Swisher is a much better use of your time. Given the choice between listening to a talker or a doer, choose the doer every time — especially if the latter is willing to say what he or she really thinks instead of hiding behind bland PR statements. 

Musk is unfiltered. Indeed he appears to relish provocation. Answering questions on his space race rivalry with Jeff Bezos, Musk comments on Bezos’s rocket. “It could be a different shape, potentially…” Asked to explain its current shape from a technological point view, Musk is happy to oblige: “if you are only doing sub-orbital then your rocket can be sort of… shorter.”

On tougher issues, like his tax affairs, Musk is also outspoken (or at least gives that impression). He’ll be paying over 50% tax on his stock options (when they expire), he says. As for the stratospheric increase in the value of those shares he said: “I’ve literally gone on record and said I think my stock price is too high… and this did nothing to stop the rise in the stock price. So what am I suppose to do?”

He gives pithy answers to other questions. What should governments do about the rise of cryptocurrency? “Nothing.” How about the use of psychedelic drugs to improve humanity? “People should be open to the use of psychedelics.” Are we living in a computer simulation? “My heart says no and my brain says yes.”

Perhaps we’re all living in Elon’s simulation — an environment in which he cleverly fuels the hype surrounding his various ventures. Except it’s not just hype. What he’s done to push forward the frontiers of technology is real. Tesla has lead the way on electrical vehicles. Space X on commercial space flight. His work on self-driving technology may hasten the end of human-driven cars (or “two-ton death machines” as he calls them). 

His most interesting answer, however, was to a personal question about his large number of children (six so far). “A lot of people think there are too many people on the planet,” he said, “in fact there’s too few. Possibly the greatest threat to human civilisation is the rapidly diminishing birth rate.”

It was the most important thing he said in the entire interview. The approaching demographic crunch is terrifying. It also poses a problem for his argument that humankind should become a “multi-planet” species. While colonising outer space may help us survive an asteroid strike or a nuclear war — it’s not going to help us with our baby shortage. 

If people refuse to reproduce on planet Earth, then why would they do so in the cramped habitats of Mars or the Moon? We’d love to hear Musk’s answer to that one. 

Join the discussion

  • I’m going to have to disagree with Mr Franklin on several of his points. Elon Musk is demonstrably a snake oil salesman, for the following reasons:

    1. He did not cofound Paypal, as he has so often claimed
    2. He did not found Tesla, as he has so often claimed
    3. He is almost certainly guilty of gross misconduct in convincing shareholders to bail out Solar City. In fact, he may have committed criminal misconduct – he is in trial for this as I write.
    4. His Hyperloop – a high speed underground tunnel vacuum system that would transport passengers in pods travelling at hundreds of mph. How was this given the light of day? “Pods travelling in vacuums at hundreds of miles per hour” quickly became “cars moving in tunnels at 30mph” and, given that building thousands of km of tunnels underground for cars to tail-gate each other is, economically insane – it was pulled.
    5. Starlink is as mad as 4, above, for similar reasons: Covering the earth in thousands of satellites, each costing tens of millions to launch, and each of which has a lifespan of 5 years, would require the entire planet to have a subscription for this service to be remotely viable, much less profitable. The only reason this ludicrous scheme “works” is because Elon’s main skill is convincing governments to subsidise unprofitable schemes with taxpayers’ money.
    6. His statements on human population are just bizarre. Nobody with any sense worries about places with falling populations. Those of us concerned by population are concerned primarily with particular countries in Africa with populations doubling every 30 years, which are (and will continue) to drive mass migration to Europe and elsewhere, exacerbating many problems that are already plainly visible to anyone with eyes. Nigeria, for example, is due to have 300 million new people in the next 30 years. It will be unable to feed them, much less give them jobs, health and education. Middle-class Nigerians I know are fleeing as fast as they can, while they still can and before, to quote my business partner, “it becomes a failed state”. Perhaps Elon will be kind enough to resettle some of those 300 million on his ranch.

    People who love Elon are people who have never taken the time to investigate his claims and who buy into the notion that there is some modern day “iron man” who will solve the world’s problems.
    If he gets his way with Starlink, as one example, he may well make global satellite communications for the foreseeable future of civilisation, impossible. If you don’t believe me, read about the very real Kessler problem, and how Elon’s poorly thought out, government subsidized madness, would potentially bring the Kessler problem to a hopeless critical mass.

  • The people who would sign up to be space colonists are presumably aware that it’s going to be a miserable struggle. Just like colonists anywhere. (Or, y’know, do you think the Pilgrims or ancient Polynesians said “Oh, I guess we’ll just check this place out, hold off on the babies for ten or twenty years, maybe wait until we all get a raise or something…”)

  • Possibly the greatest threat to human civilisation is the rapidly diminishing birth rate.
    “It was the most important thing he said in the entire interview. The approaching demographic crunch is terrifying.
    Not sure about that. This week Unherd posted an article about the possibility of China forcing its citizens to have more children to avoid the demographic crunch. One commenter astutely noted that, if technology really does replace most jobs over the next several decades, the smart move for every country is to have fewer children. There will be limited employment opportunities for people in the future. And, as a side benefit, with fewer people comes less pressure on the climate and natural resources.

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