Elon Musk is my favorite superstar entrepreneur. He also happens to be a libertarian.
For those of you unfamiliar, Musk is most famous for co-founding Tesla and played a serious role in co-founding PayPal, SpaceX, and Zip2 (which he later sold to Compaq). It seems like Musk has the Midas Touch when it comes to Silicon Valley inventions—but the reality is that he has an incredible intuition for the market. The best part? Traditionally, investing in “green” tech has been a bust. Musk has made billions doing it without being a government whipping boy. What he’s doing now is only going to make the market better.
For example, he is investing in solar. Solar. You know, the energy source that The Heartland Institute has deemed “permanently inefficient.” (A view that is far from the mainstream, by the way.)
As the chairman of the solar installer SolarCity, Musk announced Tuesday that the company will acquire Fremont’s Silevo and build a massive plant in upstate New York. Why? To “churn out solar panels that beat the Chinese panels now flooding the market in quality and cost.” Musk adds in a blog post,
Without decisive action to lay the groundwork today, the massive volume of affordable, high efficiency panels needed for unsubsidized solar power to outcompete fossil fuel grid power simply will not be there when it is needed.
And therein lies Elon Musk’s great secret of success.
He’s envisioning 2044, not 2014. He has a science fiction novel playing in his head and is matching fantasy with what the market will want and will need in the future. Between electronic money exchange, commercial space flights, and electric cars, Musk is taking the United States into a time that was once thought of as far, far away. And the free market is making it easier for him to be successful.
Take Tesla. Musk imagined a car industry where electric cars were an affordable alternative to gasoline-driven cars. But when electronic cars were only taking up 1% of the market, Elon took risky action.
In a blog post humorously titled “All Our Patent Are Belong To You,” Musk explains, “When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.” He then adds, “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform… We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.” In other words, patents don’t really help him or the market. Want to build an electric car? Go onto Tesla’s website and you can find out how they do it.
Libertarians should celebrate Musk’s seemingly altruistic stance against intellectual property while also highlighting the benefits he’s receiving. Major manufacturers like Nissan and BMW are already in talks with Tesla about expanding the charging network and making charging standards. Tesla stocks have skyrocketed. And the biggest thing Tesla has to gain from open access to his patents?
Elon Musk is making it easier for suppliers to provide for those who want electric cars.
He’s supercharging the entire freaking car industry to be better for the environment just by capitalizing on the free market. Excuse me while I liberty-nerd out.
In looking toward 2044, Musk is providing options for what people don’t even know they need yet. He’s forward thinking. He’s entrepreneurial. And hell, he might even be saving our planet. If there’s one thing that I know, it’s that the free market cures. And it looks like it might do it again and save the world.