The Billionaire & the Technocrat [Video]

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The Billionaire & the Technocrat

Who brings real hope and change, Elon Musk or Barack Obama?

Who has been more effective at driving hope and change?

Barack Obama: A political icon and former president with a methodically crafted public persona? Or Elon Musk: An unfettered, polymath, wild card, entrepreneur?

Obama and Musk each have lofty ideals, zealous fans, ferocious critics, and cautious optimism about the future.

“I am more optimistic about the future of America than ever before,” Obama told the audience at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

When TED conference head Chris Anderson asked Musk about the future in April, Musk told him that “as long we push hard…and are not complacent…the future’s going to be great.”

They once seemed like natural allies. Musk says he strongly supported Obama for president before the Democratic Party was “hijacked by extremists,” and Obama helped make Musk’s SpaceX possible by opening up the final frontier to private companies.

They’re the politician and businessman with the most followers on Twitter. And they’ve both expressed concerns about the future of speech on the internet in recent weeks, putting forth starkly divergent visions of the future of social media, though only Musk has put his own money on the line.

But comparing Obama and Musk ultimately underscores why entrepreneurs, not politicians, are the more effective agents of social change.

And that’s one reason why Musk’s Twitter takeover could be just the wild card American political discourse needs right now.

Obama’s public persona is carefully stage-managed, while Musk is a publicist’s worst nightmare.

Obama was a political outsider who used the new tool of social media to overtake and eventually become “the establishment.” For Obama, state action is how you change the world for the better.

Musk starts companies.

Obama mostly failed to limit greenhouse gas emissions through subsidies and regulation. Musk created America’s first successful electric car company.

Obama backed a failed high-speed rail project. Musk created a company that promises to eliminate congestion by tunneling under America’s densest cities and eventually building hyperloop trains.

Obama expanded online surveillance, allegedly to make us safer. Musk developed satellite internet technology that could one day help citizens access information censored by authoritarian rulers.

There’s also a lot to criticize about Musk. There’s no honor in slandering a critic as a pedophile or toying with shareholders on Twitter. He has exaggerated both the promise of battery technology and advancements in self-driving cars. His companies have received billions of dollars in tax breaks, subsidies, and other government handouts, which have certainly been a factor in their success.

But much of the anger Musk attracts has nothing to do with the help he’s received from taxpayers. It’s rooted in the belief that under capitalism billionaires have too much power, and that Obama’s approach leads to a fairer world.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller; graphics by Tomasz Kaye and Nodehaus. 

Photo credits: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom; Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye/Newscom; Britta Pedersen/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Chris Kleponis – via CNP/Polaris/Newscom; Carol Guzy/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Leigh Vogel/UPI/Newsco; Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/Newscom; Miguel Juarez Lugo/ZUMA Press/Newscom;  Nancy Stone/MCT/Newscom; Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images/Si/Newscom; ROYAL THAI NAVY/UPI/Newscom; Chris Walker/TNS/Newscom; Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/ZUMA Press/Newscom; imageBROKER/Mara Brandl/Newscom


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