Elon Musk spars with 'Senator Karen' on Twitter

AP Photo/Steven Senne

As Ed pointed out yesterday, Time magazine named Elon Musk its Person of the Year. Naturally, that’s upsetting a lot of progressives who see Musk primarily as a billionaire who doesn’t pay enough in taxes. For instance, CNN published a tedious opinion piece today titled “What Elon Musk as ‘Person of the Year’ says about us.” Here’s a sample:

Musk is not a man in need of further attention. The entrepreneur apparently thinks he’s so interesting that, as Time pointed out, he’s been known to Tweet to alert people when he’s going to the bathroom. While it’s easy to see why he’s become so self-absorbed — and the prospects of a future with self-driving cars and tourist flights to outer space are certainly fascinating — it’s unclear why we as a culture should be fixating on a man whose individual choices are not worthy of recognition. Imagine the very different message that would have been sent if Time had instead focused on the scientists and healthcare workers who have selflessly thrown themselves at the service of others during a devastating year for humanity.

We can all be interested in futuristic advances without venerating boy-men like Musk whose personal behavior is anything but exemplary.

You can read through the author’s tiresome list of reasons to cancel Elon Musk if you’re a glutton for punishment but be assured all of it is filtered through the “That’s not funny!” framework of someone who takes themselves far too seriously. For instance, the thing about Musk tweeting about his trip to the bathroom was clearly meant to be funny.

“Just dropping some friends off at the pool,” the 50-year-old zillionaire informed his 66 million Twitter followers on the evening of Nov. 29, having previously advised that at least half his tweets were “made on a porcelain throne.”…

“Sometimes I do hit some resonant notes with respect to humor,” Musk says of his puerile expressions.

In any case, the main objection to Musk these days is that he’s a billionaire and he isn’t paying enough in taxes. For the last couple months, Democrats have been talking about the possibility of a new wealth tax aimed specifically at him. The idea is to tax Musk’s unrealized gains every year, forcing him to sell stock in his own companies in order to pay the government a share of what he owns rather than just taxing him on his income like everyone else. In October, Musk paraphrased Margaret Thatcher saying that sooner or later the government will run out of other people’s money (meaning his) and come for yours.

With all of that in mind, Elizabeth Warren tweeted out a call today to change the “rigged” tax code so Musk would stop “freeloading off everyone else.”

The idea that Musk, who runs several prominent companies employing tens of thousands of people is a freeloader is a complete inversion of reality. A freeloader is literally someone who takes without giving anything in return. Does any sensible person really think Musk isn’t contributing anything to the world? Here’s Musk’s response:

He added:

Finally, a few hours later he added this.

It’s apparently true that Musk will pay the largest amount in taxes of any private citizen ever this year, as he faces a tax bill of nearly $15 billion. CNBC explained how that came about:

Musk was awarded options in 2012 as part of a compensation plan. Because he doesn’t take a salary or cash bonus, his wealth comes from stock awards and the gains in Tesla’s share price. The 2012 award was for 22.8 million shares at a strike price of $6.24 per share. Tesla shares closed at $1,222.09 on Friday, meaning his gain on the shares totals just under $28 billion…

The options expire in August of next year. Yet in order to exercise them, Musk has to pay the income tax on the gain. Since the options are taxed as an employee benefit or compensation, they will be taxed at top ordinary-income levels, or 37% plus the 3.8% net investment tax. He will also have to pay the 13.3% top tax rate in California since the options were granted and mostly earned while he was a California tax resident.

Combined, the state and federal tax rate will be 54.1%. So the total tax bill on his options, at the current price, would be $15 billion.

The real issue here is that all of Democrats’ whining about billionaires is a distraction from the extravagant spending by Congress. As Musk himself pointed out recently, if you zeroed out all the billionaires, i.e. took everything they owed in a single year, it still wouldn’t equal the amount of money Congress has spent (and is still hoping to spend) this year alone. Build Back Better, if it passes this month, could cost taxpayers $3 trillion over the next decade (assuming provisions aren’t allowed to sunset). That’s ten times Musk’s entire net worth but that’s just one bill. We have another $29 trillion in debt already on the books. Musk’s wealth is truly insignificant compared to this amount of debt.