By Robert Reich
Time magazine has named Elon Musk as its 2021 “Person of the Year,” calling him “the man who aspires to save our planet and get us a new one to inhabit.”
This is the man who downplayed the pandemic — predicting in March 2020 that there would be “probably close to zero new cases” in the United States by the end of April, and that “the coronavirus panic is dumb.” As infections surged, he called quarantine measures “fascist” and demanded that officials return people’s “freedom.” He then kept his Tesla plant open in defiance of public health orders, with the result that over a hundred Tesla workers contracted COVID. They said the company covered up the outbreak. Then he fired workers after telling them they could take unpaid time off if they didn’t feel safe coming to work.
This is the man who, when the epidemic plunged millions of Americans into near poverty, railed against coronavirus relief packages — claiming government aide wasn’t “in the best interests of the people.” Yet he’s been benefiting from government aide for years. He got a cool $465 million low-interest loan from the Department of Energy in 2010 to help kickstart Tesla. His Nevada Gigafactory was launched with the promise of $1.3 billion in tax breaks over two decades. And so on.
This is also the man who threatened to rescind his employees’ stock options if they unionized. He broke 11 other labor laws by harassing pro-union employees. A court ruled that Musk and other company executives illegally sabotaged employee efforts to form a union — harassing workers, passing out union pamphlets in the parking lot, banning employees from wearing pro-union T-shirts and buttons, repeatedly interrogating union organizers and eventually firing one of them, and distributing anti-union messages in tweets from Musk himself. Since 2010, he’s had at least 43 workers’ rights violations filed against his company.
He’s the richest person in the world who argues billionaires shouldn’t pay more taxes. He admits to taking no salary or bonus (he lives off his shares of stock) so pays little or no income tax. When Democrats proposed a billionaire tax he warned Americans that “eventually they run out of other people’s money and then they come for you.” When Bernie Sanders said the extremely wealthy should pay their fair share, he responded “I keep forgetting that you’re still alive.”
This is Time Magazine’s person of the year?
Look, I get it. America worships great wealth. It loves entrepreneurs. It celebrates mavericks. It extols rule-breakers. It reveres people who don’t give a rat’s ass. And it lauds ego-manics who combine all these qualities (it has even elected one President).
But was it really necessary for Time Magazine to honor one of them?
So here’s this week’s question: If it were up to you, who would you select as person of the year?