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Elon Musk slams Bezos, Biden, and tax avoidance claims

September 29, 2021, 2:02 AM UTC

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took the stage at a tech conference on Tuesday—and in typical Musk fashion, he was more than willing to stir the pot. The world’s richest man had plenty to say about a range of topics—from his escalating space rivalry with the second-richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to China’s increasingly hostile stance toward cryptocurrencies, to a recent media investigation into his taxes.

Here are some of Musk’s most intriguing comments during his interview with journalist Kara Swisher at Vox Media’s Code Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Musk throws shade on Blue Origin’s NASA lawsuit

The topic of space exploration dominated much of Musk’s discussion—understandable given SpaceX’s massive growth and Musk’s stated ambitions to send people to Mars.

But Musk’s juiciest statements came on the subject of Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, and its decision to sue NASA with the goal of blocking a $2.9 billion contract that the space agency awarded SpaceX to develop a lunar lander. Having recently taken aim at Bezos over the move, he was happy to do so once more.

“I think he should put more of his energy toward getting to orbit than on lawsuits,” Musk said of Bezos, referring to Blue Origin’s recent launch into suborbital space—an achievement that falls shy of full orbital space flight. He added to laughs from the audience: “You cannot sue your way to the moon, no matter how good your lawyers are.”

Musk also ribbed the phallic shape of Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle. He said the vehicle “could be a different shape, potentially” and drew more laughs in noting that “if you’re only doing suborbital, then your rocket can be shorter.”

Asked whether he talks to Bezos, whom he once again passed this week in becoming the world’s richest person, Musk said “not verbally,” but acknowledged that he does “subtweet” him on occasion.

Musk says he will go to space “at some point”

With SpaceX having recently launched the first all-civilian space flight, Musk was asked whether he himself will ever make the trip to outer space. “I suppose I will at some point,” he replied, but added that his ambitions are bigger.

“My goal is not to send myself up. My goal is to open up space to humanity and open up a path to becoming a space-faring civilization,” he said. “All of these things that we see in science fiction movies and books—we want those to be real and not always fiction.”

He was also drawn on SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-based Internet network and its Starship reusable launch vehicle. On Starlink, he reiterated that its goal of launching 15,000 small broadband satellites into low-earth orbit is “designed to serve the least-served” with Internet access, and that proceeds from that business could be used “to develop the rocket technology necessary to get humanity to Mars and the moon.” 

Starship, which is currently being developed, would be the vehicle through which it would be “possible to make the economics [work] for a self-sustaining city on Mars,” Musk said. It would do so by achieving what he described as “the holy grail of rocketry”—a “fully-reusable rocket” (as opposed to SpaceX’s current, partially reusable rockets) that would further cut the costs of space transportation. He added that the Starship project is current what he’s “spending most of my time on.”

Queried about his previous comments about wanting to die on Mars, Musk said, “I’m not trying to make a beeline to Mars and die there.” But he added that “if you’ve got to die somewhere,” Mars seemed like an interesting option, and he reiterated his desire to see humanity colonize Mars and other planets. “I think we should really try hard to make it happen before the end of the century,” Musk said.

China doesn’t appreciate crypto’s decentralizing influence

Musk said he believed one motivating factor behind China’s hostile stance toward cryptocurrencies—including its recent move to ban all cryptocurrency transactions—may have been electricity shortages around the country. (Crypto’s heavy use of energy has been one of the sector’s biggest criticisms, and ultimately led to Tesla ceasing to accept Bitcoin as payment earlier this year). But he added that China’s issues with crypto likely run deeper than that, and extend to the technology’s impact of stripping influence from government-issued fiat currencies.

“I suppose cryptocurrency is ultimately a way of reducing the power of centralized government, and they don’t like that,” Musk noted. 

Musk also commented on how he thinks U.S. regulators should approach the crypto sector. At the same conference on Monday, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler offered his concerns about crypto and his desire for more stringent regulation of the sector. Musk, who is no fan of the SEC—he yet again referred to the agency as the “Short-seller Enrichment Commission” onstage—simply offered that it should “do nothing.”

Musk says tax avoidance claims are “misleading”

Musk delivered a scathing rebuttal about ProPublica’s recent exposé into how he and other billionaires manage to avoid income taxes. He described the report as containing “a bunch of very misleading stuff” and claimed that he does not “actually draw a salary” from his companies. “My cash compensation is basically zero,” Musk said.

He did, however, acknowledge that he holds billions of dollars worth of stock options in his companies—and on those, he claims that he will end up paying more than 50% in taxes when he does end up selling them in the near-future. “I have a bunch of options that are expiring next year, so a huge block of options will sell in [the fourth quarter of 2021]—they’ll have to, or they’ll expire.” On the proceeds from those options, Musk said he will pay a “top marginal tax rate of 53%,” with that rate climbing to 57% next year. “The majority of what [stock options] I sell will be taxed.”

White House electric car summit snub

Musk was asked about a tweet last month in which he described it as “odd that Tesla wasn’t invited” to a White House ceremony promoting the Biden administration’s goal for electric vehicles to account for half of all new automobiles sold by the end of this decade. 

Musk wasn’t shy about voicing his displeasure with the White House and bemoaned the fact that it had invited the likes of General Motors and Ford to the summit, at which President Biden “didn’t mention Tesla once, and praised GM and Ford for leading the EV revolution.” Musk described the current administration as “not the friendliest” to Tesla, and took aim at its markedly pro-labor stance by saying it “seems to be controlled by unions.” (Musk has been vocally anti-union.)

Asked whether he’d prefer to have Donald Trump back as president, Musk promptly replied “No.” He did, however, appear to criticize Biden for leaning too far to the left—saying that he’d prefer to have a “moderate” and “centrist” leader in office.

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