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Elon Musk, the sci-fi anti-hero from central casting, becomes the unlikely figurehead for American economic renewal

Tesla has already experience of re-opening its facilities in China

Tesla Inc - Elon Musk, the sci-fi anti-hero from central casting, becomes the unlikely figurehead for American economic renewal

Could it be that the man who’s just named a baby X Æ A-12 will turn out to be a pivotal figure in deciding the economic and political future of the USA?

Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), SpaceX and a bespoke range of flamethrowers, this week created a storm by re-opening a factory in Alameda County, California, against the express wishes of the local authorities.

A simple case of breaking coronavirus laws?

Yes, but with Musk, whose existence seems drawn directly from the pages of a hyper-real novel by Philip K Dick, nothing is ever simple.

He was immediately accused by the largely liberal mainstream media of deliberately endangering the lives of his non-unionised workforce. So it was that the likes of CNN and the Guardian ran editorials - “What happened to Elon Musk?” and “Elon Musk v Public Health”, as though their former champion had deviated from the straight and narrow and turned to the dark side.

One elected California official even took to tweeting profanities about Musk. But, although Musk allowed his irritation to show to some degree, to a greater extent he was concentrating on the new arrival in his life, the idiosyncratically named X Æ A-12.

So, was Alameda County ready to make a martyr of Musk?

It was not.

The sheriff took note of Tesla’s infringement of the regulations and did nothing, Musk filed a lawsuit, the county backed down. And so it goes, big business triumphs over the little man yet again, at least according to the standard media narrative.

But who exactly is “the little man” in the US these days? Is it the non-unionised worker, at risk from reckless management decisions?

Or could it be Elon Musk himself, the man who took on the giant media narrative of the coronavirus consensus against all odds, and won?  

Sure, Musk isn’t as lonely in his defiance of the coronavirus doom-mongers in the US as he would be in Europe, but all the same the idea that he would want to preserve his company and the jobs that go with it seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise, and to have generated considerable derision too.

But it’s not all one way traffic

Musk is currently straddling one of the main faultlines in America. He’s a tech guru and entrepreneur who refuses to toe the silicon valley line; a man who is doing more than any single one human being physically to slow down climate change, but who is supported in his latest stance by Donald Trump; a man who is constantly pushing back the boundaries of what is possible – which is supposed to be what America is all about – but is widely derided for it.

Like many a twitter storm, though, the depth of that derision is open to question.

When he publicly warned that he would move Tesla’s operations out of Alameda County, and out of California altogether, he suddenly found he wasn’t just shouting into the wind.

On the contrary. Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, didn’t seem to think that Musk would be likely to set about killing his constituents if Tesla moved there. No, Polis knew well enough that if Tesla moved to Colorado, rather than killing the locals Tesla would be employing them. He invited Musk and Tesla in with open arms.

In the face of this pressure, Alameda County folded within hours.

The US has built up for itself within two short months the biggest unemployment numbers the country has endured since 1934.

Indeed, some analysts, including Niall Ferguson at the Hoover Institute, actually think US unemployment is going even higher, higher than it’s ever been, higher for those with short historical memories than it even was at the worst points of the Great Depression.

With that in mind, any politician wanting to stand a chance of re-election better have something to say to those one in four American workers who are no longer in employment and actively seeking jobs.

The idea that local policymakers will continue to shutter the country’s biggest carmaker when Musk, one of the most versatile industrialists in America, could just up sticks and shift production is laughable.

More to the point, it might catalyse a shift in the broader dialogue. There was a supportive article in the Wall Street Journal. The twitter world is divided, rather than unanimous, as it is on so many issues.

But the feeling is that at last, someone is fighting back in a meaningful way against the wilful economic destruction of America by middle class bureaucrats and scaremongers.

It may be surprising that it’s Musk that’s doing it. But Philip K Dick would have been proud.

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