Commentary

Celebrate the SpaceX Launch, but Don’t Pretend Elon Musk Is a Free Market Hero

By Justin Caruso | June 5, 2020 | 4:11pm EDT
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, listens to a question during the Satellite 2020 at the Washington Convention Center. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, listens to a question during the Satellite 2020 at the Washington Convention Center. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

The SpaceX Crew Dragon launch over the weekend was a proud moment for many Americans, especially given the bleak state of our politics and civic society recently. 

The successful launch is indeed a big accomplishment, but conservatives should not be so quick to cheer Elon Musk.

Musk has garnered newfound praise among some conservatives and libertarians for a variety of reasons. He publicly mocked the coronavirus lockdowns and battled California bureaucracy, threatening to move the Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif. to another state over stay-at-home orders. He also scored a little bit of viral magic with his Ivanka Trump-endorsed “red pill” tweet. 

On a more serious level, libertarian magazine Reason recently published an article praising the SpaceX launch as a “vindication” of private innovation and a means to save taxpayer money.

President Donald Trump also celebrated the launch, calling it a “great inspiration for our country.”

But Musk, for all of his accomplishments and entertaining personality, does not make for a good free market hero, given his business practices. This is because SpaceX is ultimately looking for big bucks from the government in the form of federal subsidies.

While SpaceX deserves credit for this successful launch, we shouldn't outsource our space program to a single monopoly. Like most businesses, SpaceX is seeking massive federal subsidies. Specifically, it is after $16 billion in subsidies for satellites.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in March, SpaceX is looking for a big payday from the federal government for satellites, meant to build broadband networks in rural America. SpaceX is seeking these subsidies at the same time that rural Internet companies are skeptical of SpaceX’s ambitious plans for providing broadband. Another 60 satellites were launched into space this week, and the company has permission to launch up to 12,000 satellites into space with the ultimate goal of providing broadband Internet access to people across the globe.

For Musk, subsidies are the name of the game, with companies like Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity benefiting from subsidies for years. According to a Los Angeles Times analysis from a few years ago, “Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp., and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support.”

Finally, Musk’s isn’t only after subsidies from American taxpayers; he’s also looking for Chinese cash to subsidize Tesla in China, and indeed, Tesla is betting big on Chinese markets. Tesla isn’t just relying on Chinese subsidies, either -- it is also indebted to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to a Chinese state-owned bank.

Musk is an eccentric and talented figure, but both libertarians who celebrate him as a symbol of the free market and more nationalist conservatives who see him as a figure fighting for American innovation may want to tap the brakes. Musk is ultimately looking to continue to profit off of big subsidies, and is more than happy to do business with America’s chief economic competitor, China.

SpaceX deserves credit for the launch, but nobody should pretend that he’s a free market hero.

Justin Caruso is a writer from New York. His work has appeared in The Daily Caller, Spectator USA, and many more publications.

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