Readers reacted strongly to a Times story this weekend reporting that Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk’s companies -- Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX -- have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support.
The figure comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.
In hundreds of online comments and emails, readers debated government funding for corporations generally and for Musk’s companies specifically.
Many argued the government money is needed to jumpstart important technologies designed to help the environment. Otherwise, they reasoned, the ventures are too expensive and risky to make sense for private companies or consumers.
Other readers called the support for Musk’s companies a poor use of public money and an example of the government distorting the free market by favoring certain corporations over others.
Here is a cross section of hundreds of reactions from readers.
1: “It is my strong opinion that the government should subsidize research, development, and deployment of new technologies. I’d much rather have my tax dollars go to solar panels, electric cars, and passenger space travel than Big Oil and Agribusiness.”
2: “Farmers, fossil fuel producers, and PBS get tax subsidies. They shouldn’t but they do. No politician seems to want to listen to the middle class to lower taxes so we can spend it the way we deem fit.”
3: “I would like to see the author calculate the tax money saved by Spacex. The missions to the [International Space Station] have saved NASA, read tax money, hundreds of millions, per flight that is. Money that would have gone to Russia for the most part. Solar City is decreasing America’s dependence on oil, gas, coal and nuclear one roof top at a time ... So many American and other lives were lost defending the oil supply needed to keep oil prices “low.” Why does investing in American jobs to prevent the loss of life suddenly become a bad thing?”
4: “The various government agencies that are paying for Elon Musk’s empire should be getting stock in return for their investment. When Chrysler needed a government bailout in the ‘80s, the government received stock warrants that the treasury department was later able to cash in to recoup their investment. If Musk had gone to venture capitalists to get his funding, he would have had to give them a percentage of the company. Under the present arrangement, Musk gets to keep $10 billion worth of stock all to himself, and the taxpaying public who finance him gets nothing.”
5: “The US needs to fundamentally invest in our future. If the oil producing countries want to keep producing oil, that’s fine. We should pull away as fast as possible before the scarcity happens, and investing in Tesla and other Musk companies is how the future has to happen. It takes a really narrow view of the future to look at this as a handout and sending our kids to die in Iraq and Afghanistan as the right thing to do.”
6: “If he’s on to something, then why doesn’t private money fund this, or we as taxpayers get .001% of a share of stock equal to the government investment. Look what happened with [General Motors], somehow after they came roaring back in a few years, our loan still was paid back at a loss. Maybe with stock held as collateral by U.S. citizens, these companies would be a little more beholden to us instead of the Washington palms they have to grease for the investment. I have to add that I believe Musk is a brilliant thinker and futurist.”
7: “Tesla was tossed off as a ‘joke’ of a company for over 10 years, and Musk kept pouring in all of his money and time in that and SpaceX. Now because he came through with everything he said he would do and more, people are learning investing with Musk is a smart idea. He is changing the world, and the future, and at fractions of the price of companies and Government of the past.”
8: “I hope that the regressive folks who want to go back to the Dark Ages remember that the ENTIRE military and defense contractor consortium solely exists from government subsidies (otherwise they would not exist) ... and countless other corporations and businesses ... including oil producers - completely rely on government subsidies. Wal-Mart employees use government subsidies, so they can live to work at Wal-Mart. At least Tesla uses the subsidies for something worthwhile ... unlike the others noted.”
9: “Cannot well-meaning people, progressive and conservative alike, who understand the danger to the nation posed by Crony Capitalism ... come together to stop this type of political and social manipulation?”
10: “If Preston Tucker had gotten the kind of support Musk gets from the government (state and federal), we all might be driving Tuckers instead of Chrysler Fiats. Unfortunately, he was just an old-fashioned con-man with no help from Jerry Brown and the Obamas.”