To read Josh Harkinson take on things, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is your typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur, spouting Libertarian ideas while being more than willing to take federal grants. Harkinson wrote a lengthy profile of Musk for Mother Jones and it's well worth your time if you're at all curious about Musk or Tesla Motors.
Harkinson's article is one of the most detailed ever published on Musk – other recommended write-ups include Vanity Fair's 2007 profile and the GQ piece from 2009 – and he makes some interesting points. We all know that Tesla used its $465 million US Department of Energy (DOE) loan to startup its Model S electric car. Despite taking the loan (and, yes, paying it back early), Musk thinks of himself more as a pragmatic entrepreneur free from the political winds dictating government funding. He's been attacked by conservatives like presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but Musk thinks his positions make sense from a business perspective. "Tesla 'would still be around' with or without the DOE loan," he once told Popular Mechanics. "We were bailed in, not bailed out."
"We were bailed in, not bailed out" - Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Tesla is getting a lot of buzz these days in Silicon Valley, with some saying the Model S has the disruptive potential of the iPhone and that Musk could be the next Steve Jobs. That's good and all, but sometimes the role of government support for a lot of this innovation is quickly forgotten. Harkinson gives examples of other Silicon Valley startups that took federal grants – Apple and Google to name two - and points out how Musk keeps his anti-government stance public. A "carbon tax would be a better way," he once Tweeted. "Yes, am arguing against subsidies and in favor of a tax.... Market will then achieve best solution."
But Musk is a really just pragmatist, apparently. In April 2009, Musk needed to move things along for Tesla. So, he turned to one of his tried-and-true techniques from his college days and hosted a kegger. He gathered politicos for brewskis in Washington's National Building Museum, taking them for rides in the Model S. Three months later, the DOE loan for the supposed Libertarian was approved. Like we said, it's a great read.