Elon Musk’s role in politics
This September, Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, lunched at a lavish, unnamed golf course in Aspen, Colorado. Musk was attending The Weekend— a private event with a guest list of only the most influential business and political leaders. As he sat under a tent and snacked on hors d’oeuvres, Musk proposed a plan to end the war in Ukraine.
Many of those around him were enraged. His proposal would allow Russia to annex Ukrainian land—suggesting his rapport with Russia. Ten days later, Musk revealed this proposal on Twitter—the social media platform that he recently acquired for $44 billion—and the Russian government approved.
Although President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine sharply condemned Musk’s plan, the billionaire’s position placed Zelensky and his country in a bind. Starlink, one of Musk’s several companies, builds terminals that the Ukrainian army relies on for communication.
Ultimately, Elon Musk has unabashedly emerged as a new authority in global politics. Many billionaires frequently proclaim their opinions on worldwide affairs, but Musk—through wielding his beloved Twitter account, making controversial suggestions, and heading several major tech companies—has set himself apart.
Makenzie Streed, a senior at Minnehaha Academy, does not think Elon Musk should hold this role as a central geopolitical figure.
“He should stick to cars and energy. He’s good at that,” explained Streed. “ I think he should get out of politics.”
Musk and Ukraine
Musk derives the majority of his wealth from Tesla—his electric car company—but his political influence mainly stems from SpaceX—his rocket company that also runs the Starlink satellite net- work. Because Starlink can beam internet service to conflict zones, it is an essential tool in war.
Critics of Musk—including Karen Kornbluh, a former adviser to President Obama and a director with the German Marshall Fund—worry that Musk will primarily act on his business interests and, therefore, risks aligning himself with faulty political agendas.
“Technology has become central to geopolitics,” explained Kornbluh to the New York Times. “It is fascinating and it is messy and there is Elon Musk in the middle of it.”
In some instances, Musk’s companies have been invaluable. Because of Starlink, Ukrainian civilians and soldiers can communicate via satellite during their ongoing war with Russia. However, Musk’s Twitter statements regarding Starlink and Ukraine often contradict themselves.
After tweeting that he cannot continue to fund Ukraine’s use of Starlink “indefinitely” on October 14, he abruptly changed his mind.
“The [heck] with it,” Musk tweeted on October 15. “Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
Although Musk claims otherwise, he is not completely funding Starlink’s wartime aid. News reports have revealed that the majority of the terminals Starlink supplied to Ukraine have been fully or partially paid for by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland.
Dmitri Alperovitch — co-founder of the Silverado Policy Accelerator, a geopolitical think tank in Washington— condemns Musk for his indecisiveness on the role and purpose of his companies.
“He has to decide,” asserted Aperovitch to the New York Times. “Is Starlink a commercial service that provides sometimes lifesaving technology to its customers or a service that is highly dependent on the geopolitical interests of its management and, thus, unreliable for customers who have concerns over national security?”
Musk and Taiwan
Similar to his conduct with Ukraine, Musk has recently inserted himself into the affairs of Taiwan—another geopolitical hot spot.
Around 50 percent of Tesla cars are produced in Shanghai which indicates that Musk is dependent on China. Therefore, the current tensions between China and Taiwan could threaten his company.
Musk, once again, made an incendiary suggestion when he publicly supported handing some control of Taiwan to China. However, Chao Tien-Lin, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party and the Taiwanese Legislature’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee firmly called on Musk to retract his position and encouraged countries to boycott the billionaire’s products.
Further—because of Musk’s reliance on China—if a war breaks out between the two countries, Taiwan will likely not have access to the billionaire’s vital communication systems.
Griffin Anderson, a junior at Minnehaha Academy, does not think Elon Musk should possess this vast amount of power.
“I think Elon Musk holds too much power,” stated Anderson. “He has a major role in global politics, but he misuses that influence.”
The extent of Musk’s power
Ultimately, though most individuals recognize the impact that Elon Musk has on the tech industry, many still fail to understand the full extent of his political influence.
Layla Asgarian Nahavandi—an opinions writer for the New University newspaper— is disgusted with Musk’s conduct in politics.
“Elon Musk’s involvement with Ukraine proves that he cannot be trusted with the influence he possesses,” maintained Nahavandi. “[Starlink] has threatened to set up a dangerous precedent…From now on, we should doubt [Musk’s] intentions and promises for our own protection. [Starlink] evidently prioritizes profit over human lives, so putting our trust in them is dangerous. If the rewards for their actions don’t outweigh the costs, people like Musk will always put themselves first.”
Similarly, Ellie Novak—a senior at Minnehaha Academy—criticizes Musk’s disuse of his power.
“I think that there’s no way for any person to gain the amount of money that Elon Musk has ethically,” explained Novak. “The only way is through the exploitation of others. Musk has the power to change the entire world with the amount of money that he has. He could create a better future for a lot of people who are suffering greatly. However, he only focuses on himself. He thinks he can jump into anything he wants and solve the problem, but he really just creates more problems.”