by Greg Barker
Thursday, 28
October 2021
Explainer
07:00

The dark side of Tesla’s $1 trillion dollar milestone

Elon Musk is driving us into an era of mass delusion
by Greg Barker
Con man or genius?Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Join the discussion


  • This is silly at best and just mean at worse. While Elon has his flaws (don’t we all), his ability to negotiate and succeed in three of the worlds most difficult regulatory environments, California, China, and Germany, demonstrates his company is anything other than a fraud which you imply. The man has singlehandedly brought EVs to the market and changed the way transportation will meet its climate change hurdles.

  • Good to see some coverage of monetary insanity. Tesla is a valuable company with some real assets and Musk is a somewhat erratic genius at seeing a future. But the valuation of Tesla (nee Musk) can never deliver but the bigger fool theory remains valid – some winners, many losers. Bitcoin is another bigger fool game. Doesn’t matter to many. Inflation is here and likely isn’t going away easily which means some hard times ahead. The pandemic has destroyed some $30T in total real wealth that will take many years to resolve. We were just recovering from the $15T lost in 2000.

  • As you say though, not much has changed. The figures get bigger but that gets lost in the everyday world. People got bored with millions so billions became the aim. People got bored with billions so …….It is all dishonest but wasn’t it always so?
    I have to say that the biggest and most damaging dishonesty of all is going to be the banning of discussion about environmental issues. The world is being told, maybe worst of all in your old country, that zillions are to be paid to people who develop these new technologies, even if they don’t work in the end.
    What comes after zillions? Is it gazillions?

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