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Elon Musk on Income Inequality, Cryptocurrency and His Tweets: Excerpts From the 2021 Person of the Year Interview

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Elon Musk, TIME’s 2021 Person of the Year, already has a reach that extends beyond Earth. The controversial billionaire, who helms both Tesla and SpaceX, has plans for what he calls “a futuristic Noah’s ark.”

But that doesn’t mean he’s focused solely on the interplanetary. During an interview with TIME at his Boca Chica, Texas, facility on Dec. 3, Musk discussed his wealth, the electric vehicle market, SpaceX and the latest on his relationship with Grimes.

TIME's Kluger, left, interviews Musk; two Starships loom in the background

Here are excerpts from Musk’s interview, edited for clarity.

On being the richest person in the world

“Well, I think there’s like some, you know, sovereigns. I think [Russia’s] President Putin is significantly richer than me. I can’t invade countries and stuff.”

On income inequality

“When looking at income and asset distribution, it is very important to normalize that for age. So as societies age, there are more older people; the older somebody is, the richer they are. But a lot of the push for higher government involvement and expropriation of assets by the government is pushed by a bunch of politicians who are actually saying that resources shouldn’t be in control of private individuals. They should be in control of the government.”

Being a “utopian anarchist”

“If there’s a utopia where people have access to any goods or services that they want, there’s plenty for everyone. If we have a highly automated future with the robots that can do anything, then any work you do will be because you want to do it, not because you have to do it. I don’t mean to suggest chaos, but rather that you’re not under anyone’s thumb.”

Tesla’s valuation

“I’ve tried to just tamp down expectations, saying I think the stock’s maybe too high. Current valuation is pretty high, which suggests that the market has faith in future execution of the company because it’s certainly not based on historical profitability, that’s for sure.”

Competition in the electric-vehicle market

“If somebody makes better cars than we do and they then sell more cars than we do, I think that’s totally fine. Our intent with Tesla was always that we would serve as an example to the car industry and hope that they also make electric cars, so that we can accelerate the transition to sustainable energy.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership

“I’m more concerned about the fact that Facebook, now Meta, has an equity structure that makes it such that his great-great-­grandchildren will still control the company. Share structures that give super-voting rights should be removed.”

Overconfidence at SpaceX

“If we have ships and boosters but no engines, we would be losing billions of dollars a quarter. And if that continued, then bankruptcy would not be out of the question. I feel as though we’ve had many years of success and a lot of people at the company have never seen a launch failure. A lot of people have never in their career experienced a recession. If somebody entered the workforce after 2009, it just seemed like things always go up. I was concerned that we may be getting complacent.”

On cryptocurrency

“I’m not a huge hater of fiat currency like many in the crypto­world are. But there are advantages with crypto relative to fiat in that fiat currency tends to get diluted by whatever government it is. It ends up being a pernicious tax on people, especially those who have cash savings with dilution of the money supply. I could wax on about the nature of money for hours because I played a significant role in creating PayPal. There are very few people that understand [the money system] better than me.”

His tweets

“I’m not really trying to do brand optimization. So sometimes, I obviously shoot myself in the foot. As is obvious from my tweets, they’re humor that I find funny, but not many other people find funny.”

Love and his relationship with musician Grimes

“Grimes and I are, I’d say, probably semi-separated. Her work has her being in different places a lot vs. my work. So we weren’t seeing each other that much, because what she needs to do is mostly in L.A. or touring, and my work is mostly in remote locations like this. I’m human and all; I’m not a robot, but this place is basically a techno monastery.”

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