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Is Musk Tesla’s Reincarnation?

The bonds of innovative spirits Is Musk Tesla’s Reincarnation?

While life is evanescent and communication depends on the living spirit of human beings (making impossible any link with the other side) two characters defy normal rules through a conversation across centuries. They do not seem to be out of the ordinary. They are just full of (common) ideas.

The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane. Nikola Tesla

For Elon Musk there are no limits. Earth itself cannot stand in his way. On the other side of the table and across time stands Nikola Tesla, beckoning us into an open debate between past, present and future. They are truly satisfied to challenge and to change ideas, especially when the topic is their life’s passion: electricity. Elon Musk can be considered a reincarnation of the great physicist. He continues Tesla’s work through his visionary ideas regarding the evolution of humanity. Nikola Tesla is known to history as an engineer, physicist, inventor and genius. Although while alive he was considered mad, time revealed the validity of his ideas. The same passion is shared by Elon Musk, who strives to move the world paradigm into uncharted territories full of promise. Although Musk is a visionary, his earthly side holds him in good stead as a skilled businessman and investor, not just as an engineer with strong attraction for physics. He marries an idealist’s starry eyed vision for what could be, so often shipwrecked on the shoals of quotidian reality with an entrepreneur’s sense for monetization, return on investment and incremental build-up towards his objectives, making them that much more achievable. His latest stated moves past inventions and discoveries in the world as new strengths permit the reemergence of old interests: Mars and humanity’s destiny as a multiplanetary species. Musk plans to create a human colony on the fourth planet from the Sun. His mind may have created a scifi movie script, but his words express a confident Yes I will while mobilizing all the financial resources he has acquired on this historic bet. This is not the first time Musk risks losing his entire fortune. His is the perfect image of an entrepreneur with little risk aversion: the crazy investor guided by all or nothing principle, the bold one whom Fortune is said to favor.

When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, 'Nah, what's wrong with a horse?' That was a huge bet he made, and it worked. Elon Musk

Elon Musk and Nikola Tesla are the ones that risked and, decades later, Musk is also winning in Tesla’s name. Elon was inspired by the great physicist that discovered the alternative current and focused on the future. The co-founder of the Tesla car manufacturer invested in 2004 around 7.5 million dollars from his personal funds and became chairman. That was the decisive moment for the brand, as Musk’s singular vision pushed the design and production team to the edge repeatedly and in the face of media skepticism in a bid to create the electric car anyone would want to own. Then, Musk’s competence was tested in 2008 when Tesla faced collapse. The bright investor had to take his most difficult business decision: save it or leave it. Confident in his abilities, Elon placed 20 million dollars from his funds in Tesla. At that moment, the decision shocked the board of directors. They couldn’t explain why Elon did it. Why would he risk the money earned from selling PayPal for a business whose product had already been pegged as vaporware? In 2008, electric cars were the way of the future and people felt that it would stay that way, due to cost, infrastructure, technology and mass consumer aversion. Elon doubled down on his bet in the face of such odds. When expressing his decision, Elon was so convincing that he somehow changed the board’s opinion. The question remains, why take such a risk? Elon Musk might be an idealist, but his is a physicist’s thought pattern, intensely logical, focused and coldly appraising. Sometimes cruelly so, if one believes “Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future”, his biography written by Ashlee Vance. Every decision has a calculation of some sort behind it and intransigence to back it, sparing little personal expense.

Same as Nikola Tesla, Elon considers his work the future of mankind. He lives with a high confidence both in his mind and his soul: someday cars will have no other choice than to be able to function with electricity. Moreover, Musk anticipates the moment when fossil fuels will be at an end and life will need to continue its path. Nowadays, his cars are sold in very small numbers compared to other car manufacturers, but Musk is not worried. He knows that the day when his competitive advantage will come home to roost will not tarry long. Already, his battery technology is insinuating itself into the supply chains of his erstwhile competitors and, whatever brand other than his may emerge to dominate the electric market, his will be the indispensable company behind it, just like Samsung is to Apple. Furthermore, his company followed the simple principle that turns luxury goods into everyday mass possessions: the first model, Roadster, had a high price (above 100 000 dollars) and low volumes, hooking early adopters and image conscious consumers. The Model S, its descendant, aligns the price and the volumes at a medium level. The next generation of cars will be the one to even out the scales with the mass market – low price (30 000 dollars) and high volumes. The billionaire with triple citizenship has an unsophisticated strategy. First, when his cars did not benefit from attention from the potential clients, he addressed a super-premium target with few people. Once his brand gained awareness and consideration, having the capability of generating higher volumes, Musk maintained the sales value by dropping the price. Nowadays, when Elon’s idea was accepted by a larger number of clients, Tesla becomes an important player on the market. His strategy, perfect adapted for every stage of the business, turned out to be successful even after successive rounds since 2008 of Elon keeping the company on life support from his own funds while it prepared its ascent.

Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine. Nikola Tesla

With SpaceX, Elon strikes for an “undiscovered country” few have had the chance of considering as attainable, let alone visiting. The two pen-friends from across the century play a simple game with their cards on the table. Musk and Tesla express their feelings and thoughts with no pretense or deception. If Nikola was considered insane when he tried more than 100 years ago to force the boundaries of what was possible, Elon is not far apart. The language is more polite, speaking of him in terms of overreach, overconfidence, overextension and unreasonableness. The confidence that the South African investor places behind his plan of going to Mars and creating a civilization over there makes him out to be with his head in the cloud. Some may have cried when watching “The Martian”, but the vast majority still believe that the topic of the movie is still far from reality. Elon contradicts us. He argues that he will succeed in his lifetime and he will transport people and himself to Mars. History is repeating for Elon Musk. The same scenario happened with Tesla and the businessman was right. He proved it once. Will it happen again? Elon stakes his wealth and reputation on proving the naysayers wrong about the potential for human habitation on Mars and whether the rationale for the efforts required really exists, especially for the self-sustaining colony that he envisions. This would be our age’s most important achievement for mankind if it could be done. While driven also by ego and the thymos the Ancient Greeks spoke of, or will to achieve, at the origin of Musk’s idea is a noble consideration: to save humanity when this world will have run out of resources or if it will be affected by an extinction level disaster. For humans, suddenly not having fossil fuels would be a disaster, as our dependence is total and, for the foreseeable future, uncompromising. The Earth’s population would struggle to adapt to such a technological reversion as would be required to return to a pre-“fossil fuel abundance” equilibrium. With all his education and civilization, man risks (as the Indian story tells) to feed the bad wolf. Money is not a problem for Musk, nor would he worry about likely facing such disaster in his lifetime. His struggle is fueled by a vision of the future and by the inventor’s thirst, the same as for Nikola Tesla. Thirsting to make his mark on history, Musk goes beyond anticipating the needs of consumers, the trends of the market and the games-within-games played by multinationals.

When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor. Elon Musk

For the moment, there is another issue that Musk has to bypass. The explosion on September 1st, could sabotage SpaceX’s efforts at successfully competing with the companies that have a long track record and advertise safety, if not innovation or cost competitiveness. The causes are still unknown, although SpaceX has a habit of learning from its failures. Not only did SpaceX lose, but also Facebook. Musk also owes Israel Space Communication (whose satellite was destroyed) 50 million dollars or a free launch. Many interest groups, both public and private, would secretly smile if he were to falter before his reusable rocket technology matures and changes space exploitation forever, to the detriment of entrenched actors.

Ultimately, Elon Musk intends to satisfy the one and only need that the entire population will have at a future moment: life. But Musk has yet to grapple with the philosophical underpinnings of his efforts and the “lifeboat ethics” that colonization for disaster aversion will entail. Who will go to Mars? Will the meek inherit the Red Planet? Or will past development patterns repeat themselves, marrying success to ultimate failure as the human condition asserts itself in the form of oppression and exploitation? The answer cannot be offered yet.

 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016