Opinion: Santa Musk? Why not?
Ultrabillionaire Elon Musk has been getting some very uncomplimentary press lately. He spent $31 billion of his own money (and a $13 billion loan from the bank) to purchase Twitter. Then he fired all of the top management and staff. He followed that by getting rid of half of the workforce, about 4,000 employees. All employees used to get free food at work. Now, he’s requiring the remaining workers to work “long hours at high intensity” and pay for their food. On top of that, the bank is trying to sell off his loan at 60 cents on the dollar, but there are no takers. Some business analysts say “he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” and others are simply predicting bankruptcy for Twitter.
But Musk has an additional $150 billion (give or take) in net worth, so he doesn’t really need to worry about whether Twitter sinks or swims, and he’s certainly not going to have to take up residence under a freeway overpass in a nylon tent. In fact, he has more money than he can spend in his lifetime, even if he makes more poor business decisions. He has more money than his ex-wives, ex-live-ins, twin children, triplet children, and one-birth-at-a-time children can ever spend. So, why not take a relatively small part of that massive fortune and use it to create a legacy, one that should endear all Californians to him?
Yep, after being silent on the subject for a few years, I’m once again going to talk about Musk and his idea for a hyperloop.
Hyperloop v. Bullet Train
In 2013, Musk revealed plans for vacuum-tube-type transportation, which he called the Hyperloop. He had at least a dozen engineers from Tesla and Space X create the initial designs for a passenger vehicle that would travel through a vacuum tube (kind of like the device that one might use at the drive-up teller at certain banks). The Alpha design was posted as a “whitepaper” on both Tesla and Space X blogs, and it was greeted with a good deal of enthusiastic support from critics of California’s stalled, flawed, and increasingly expensive high-speed-rail system.
At the time, Musk claimed that a hyperloop could be constructed between Hayward (on the east side of the San Francisco Bay) and Sylmar (north of Los Angeles) that would transport passengers in 35 minutes. Cost of construction would be about $6 billion, $64 billion less than the high-speed-rail system estimate that year. And, while it was postulated that the HSR could reach speeds above 200 miles per hour, hyperloop would zoom by at 600 mph.
Of course, both of those speeds were theoretical. However, the following year (2014), Japan’s Maglev train, on a test run near Mt. Fuji, clocked in at 603 kilometers per hour (375 mph), prompting me to refer thereafter to California’s version of HSR as the Slo-Mo Choo-choo. But even Japan’s amazing feat lags far behind the potential of the hyperloop. Then, Musk made an announcement that really won me over.
The problem that I have with travel by train in California is that wherever you go, you’ll always face the problem of a lack of local transportation when you get there. California is a massive state with limited modes of public transportation. Let’s say that you leave Los Angeles and arrive in San Francisco in an hour or so (hyperloop) or several hours (high-speed rail). But your business meeting is in Novato. How do you get there?
Musk said that for about $2 billion more, hyperloop could add units that would transport cars as well as people. That, for me, was a game changer. Let’s say that you need to go from Madera Community College to Bakersfield College. With the enhanced version of the hyperloop, you drive from MCC to the Hyperloop Station, board with your car, arrive about 25 minutes later in downtown Bakersfield, drive a couple of miles across downtown to Union Avenue, hang a left and stay on that street until it makes the turn at Garces High School, then keep going straight for a couple of miles, and there you are at B.C.
Fast, easy, stress free.
Now, let’s get back to Musk’s current problems. Certainly, he faces challenges with his recent business moves, but it’s the bad press that’s really hurting him. What if he decided to play Santa Claus for all Californians? Let’s say that his cost estimate for hyperloop has tripled or quadrupled since 2013. Hell, let’s say it’s increased 5-fold to $30 billion for the simple version, $40 billion for the augmented, car-toting model.
Musk could build the entire system as a Christmas gift to the state and still have more billions of dollars than any pharaoh, king, emperor, dictator (with the possible exception of Vladimir Putin), or other potentate in the history of the world. And he could spread the tax write-off over the entire span of his life.
He has the plans for the system. Because of hyperloop-building contests, he has prototypes. He owns the Boring Corporation that has already demonstrated its ability to drill tunnels both above and below the earth’s surface. And he’s got the engineers and other personnel to complete the process. In brief, he can do what the State of California cannot do.
Meanwhile, the bad press would simply disappear. No one would be making fun of his son’s name, X AE A-XII, or his daughter’s name, Exa Dark Siderael, called Y. They’d just be two of Santa Musk’s kids. They could probably even attend public school without being beaten up on a daily basis. And, eventually, Musk could invent a flying sleigh, zip across California skies on Christmas Eve, his public address system delivering a message ere he glides out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. His column sometimes stretches the limits of fantasy. He may be contacted at email@example.com.