SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk drew outrage Thursday after publicly complaining that his vast wealth would be further taxed under a new proposal by Sen. Ron Wyden, aimed at raising revenue to pay for social supports under the Build Back Better Act.
As Democrats continued debating what would be included in the plan—which the majority of party members want to provide paid family leave to workers, far-reaching climate action and green jobs, Medicare reforms to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices, and other provisions—Musk tweeted about Wyden's proposal.
"Eventually, they run out of other people's money and then they come for you," he said earlier this week, adding on Wednesday evening that "spending is the real problem" contributing to the national debt, rather than the failure of corporations and the richest Americans to pay a fair tax rate.
@wapodavenport US national debt is ~$28,900 billion or ~$229k per taxpayer. Even taxing all “billionaires” at 100%… https://t.co/VupuSWWLHP— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1635371536.0
Musk's comments caught the attention of economic justice advocates including Patriotic Millionaires—the coalition of wealthy Americans who believe they should be taxed at a much higher rate to help narrow the wealth gap—which noted the Tesla founder himself relied on "other people's money" to build his empire.
"Millions of hard-working people who do their part for the country every day, while entitled 'technokings' like Elon Musk shirk their most basic responsibilities."
"Elon Musk was born with an emerald spoon in his mouth, and when he needed more money for his various schemes, he turned to U.S. taxpayers for billions of dollars of subsidies and direct handouts," said Erica Payne, president and founder of Patriotic Millionaires.
Musk's companies—Tesla, SolarCity Corp., and SpaceX—received an estimated $4.9 billion in federal funding as of 2015 via subsidies and direct grants from the Treasury Department.
"Government support is a theme of all three of these companies, and without it none of them would be around," hedge fund manager Mark Spiegel, whose firm shorted Tesla's stock, told the Los Angeles Times in 2015.
Musk's companies also "rely on a workforce educated by public tax dollars and a physical, legal and economic infrastructure built, maintained, and paid for by American taxpayers," Payne said.
"It's too bad we can't tax egos," she added. "We could pay off the entire federal debt with a miniscule tax on this guy's overblown opinion of himself."
Payne's disdain was echoed by political observers.
Musk's opposition to Wyden's Billionaires' Income Tax—which would apply to about 700 taxpayers with over $1 billion in assets or more than $100 million in income for three consecutive years, and would impose an annual tax on tradable assets, whether or not they are sold—shows why the proposal is needed, wrote Greg Sargent at The Washington Post.
The billionaires' tax would also address glaring flaws in our tax code that deserve attention in their own right: They've driven soaring inequality and badly unbalanced our political economy. Fixing these would itself confer major benefits, irrespective of helping "pay for" Democratic investments.
Musk's opposition helps illustrate this. Like many other rich people, his extreme wealth is partly the creation of government investment undertaken for the public good. But he's also perfectly happy to protect that wealth from fair taxation in ways that deprive the government of revenue for other socially beneficial investments, just as many other billionaires are.
On Twitter, Sargent wrote that according to Musk, government investments in companies like his own are "good and visionary" while investing in an expanded child tax credit, paid family leave, and other anti-poverty initiatives are equal to "bad taking" of public resources.
In response to Musk's comments, as Democrats continued their negotiations on Thursday, Patriotic Millionaires sent a mobile billboard around Capitol Hill, displaying an image of Musk and the text: "Elon Musk: 300 billion more reasons to tax the rich."
The billboard also mocked what the group called Musk's "baffling decision to change his title at Tesla to 'Technoking'," displaying an image of the billionaire with the text "Techno 'Mooch' King."
"Musk paid a 3.27% tax rate on $13.9 billion in gains between 2014 and 2018. Since then, Musk has earned over a hundred billion dollars more, and paid even less on those gains," said Payne. "Someone earning just $25,000 a year in income pays a top rate of 12%, almost four times what he paid. Millions of hard-working people who do their part for the country every day, while entitled 'technokings' like Elon Musk shirk their most basic responsibilities."
"This country made him rich," she added. "He owes us."