Why should we revere the super-wealthy?

Tesla founder Elon Musk
Tesla founder Elon Musk
Image: REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

One of the sad things of our time — probably of all time — is that super-wealthy people or corporate executives ought to be revered.

They are admired for their financial success, the amounts of money they have accrued, and the material possessions they have acquired.

They are the heroes most admired among everyone from financial advisers to business schoolteachers.

Yet, very many of these wealthy people have done little more than make a lot of money, and shared some of it through tax deductible charitable donations.

Sure, they have created jobs, and share some of their wares with society — not for free, it should be said — but for the most part, the wealthiest of the wealthy, tend to be the worst employers and, well, quite often are the most unsavoury and duplicitous characters.

Their faults and fakeries are all brushed under the carpet because they are wealthy.

Having become a billionaire tends to be seen as a great achievement in a world that has slaughtered ethics and morality, human rights and dignity on the altar of greed and accumulation.

In fact, everyone who has given the world great “things,” should be judged solely on that.

Never mind the fact that they may treat their workers, and sometimes their spouses, terribly.

Elon Musk is probably the cynosure of this cadre of billionaires.

Though I should not generalise about him.

I’m sure he has treated each of his two wives, and his current partner, the musician Grimes, with whom he has just had a child, with absolute respect and dignity.

It’s worth noting, if only for the record, (as reported in The Telegraph on March 25 2018) that his father, Errol, 72, reportedly pulled a Woody Allen, and had a baby with his stepdaughter — Jana Bezuidenhout, 30.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Elon Musk described his father as a “terrible human being  ... You have no idea about how bad,” he said.

“Almost every crime you can possibly think of, he has done. Almost every evil thing you could possibly think of, he has done.”

Musk senior, a millionaire who made his fortune through engineering, disputed that characterisation, but has admitted shooting dead three intruders in his home in SA — before the family emigrated.

Anyway, Elon Musk seems to be a — how shall I put it — unpleasant fellow, never mind how much business school and financial planner types fawn over him.

Before I continue, I should insert a few caveats.

There are people who have become stupendously wealthy through innovation and hard work, like the late Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates.

Elon Musk, however, is at the best of times, a huckster salesman like Donald Trump — one of Musk’s greatest fans.

Tesla cars will probably change the future of cars.

The technology behind the Tesla is truly astounding, but we should be clear, Elon Musk is no Nicola Tesla.

Besides, it has been well reported that Musk is only a “co-founder” — after he settled out of court with one of the actual two co-founders of the company back in 2009.

Last week, his SpaceX company ferried two astronauts to the International Space Station.

Again, it should be stressed, Musk did not engineer rocket-building, invent space-flight, or advance technology in Artificial Intelligence or robotics.

My sense is that he simply paid others to do the heavily lifting.

It is however, the way that Musk manipulated and abused the California legal and labour system — he allegedly blackmailing legislators — to block unionisation, pay as little tax as possible, and most recently, defied lockdown orders, and placed the health of his workers at stake.

There is also an underlying racism that has been noted in Musk’s dealing, especially with minorities at Tesla’s assembly lines.

Last year, Forbes magazine found that between 2014 and 2018, Tesla was the subject of 24 health and safety investigations, resulting in almost $250,000 (R4.4) in fines for 54 violations — a much high number and level of fines and violations than for other carmakers in the US.

In 2018, an investigation into injuries at the Tesla car plant in Northern California revealed how a safety professional at the company went to her supervisor to complain about the absence of yellow hazard lines and pedestrian markings on the factory floor.

The reply, according to Reveal News, was “Elon does not like the colour yellow”.

I should say, again, that there are fabulously wealthy people who are decent hard-working people, and then there are those who have accrued incredible privilege over many years — and are proving to be among the worst characters around.

And then there is the thing about free markets ... From Apple, to Tesla and SpaceX, nobody will mention the billions that the state invested in the early phases of these companies.

Ask Musk how many billions the US government made available to him in 2009. I doubt that you will learn any of that at business school.