Elon Musk has beef with Bill Gates because he shorted Tesla stock, says biographer
The origin story of the 'in case u need to lose a boner fast' tweet
Comment Elon Musk's Weltanschauung isn't so much "forgive and forget" as it is "resent and remember" – then post a nasty meme on the internet about the person who "wronged" you.
In April 2022, Musk had us sniggering at an unflattering snap of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates along with the caption "in case u need to lose a boner fast" on X (née Twitter), which the mogul would go on to buy outright in October.
With Gates sporting a belly typical of a man on the wrong side of 65, the insult seemed apropos of nothing but a low blow for cheap laughs among Musk's millions of worshippers. Also, pot, meet kettle?
But for Musk it was very much apropos of something – and that something has been underscored by a passage from Walter Isaaccson's biography of the billionaire, published on CNBC ahead of the book's launch tomorrow.
Most people wouldn't have been aware unless they had a deep financial interest in the fortunes of Tesla, Musk's electric car company, but at the time Gates was shorting its stock.
"Short-sellers occupied his innermost circle of hell," Isaaccson writes of Musk's position, but the issue would bubble to the fore when Gates thought he'd lecture Musk on charitable causes, his favorite hobby after stepping back from Microsoft.
"Hey, I'd love to come see you and talk about philanthropy and climate," he told Musk when they attended the same meeting early that year. "Musk's stock sales had led him, for tax reasons, to put $5.7 billion into a charitable fund he had established," Isaaccson writes, and Gates reckoned he had loads of good ideas on what to do with that cash.
The author says that the two had established a positive acquaintance as "the rarefied fraternity of people who have held the title of richest person on Earth," and Gates was able to bring his son, Rory, to tour SpaceX, Musk's not-electric rocket company.
But from the excerpt it appears that Gates stuck his neck too far into Musk's ambitions during the visit, claiming "batteries would never be able to power large semitrucks and that solar energy would not be a major part of solving the climate problem."
He also pooh-poohed Musk's desire to get humans living on Mars, telling the author later: "He's overboard on Mars. I let him explain his Mars thinking to me, which is kind of bizarre thinking. It's this crazy thing where maybe there's a nuclear war on Earth and so the people on Mars are there and they'll come back down and, you know, be alive after we all kill each other."
Needless to say, even though they are two of the richest people on the planet, they did not see eye to eye on many things – including philanthropy. Musk shared that he thought it was "bullshit" and there was only "a 20 cent impact for every dollar put in." His way of doing good for humanity and Earth was to invest in Tesla and get everyone driving electric cars.
Gates suggested a few projects "of a hundred million each" – refugees, American schools, a cure for AIDS, eradication of harmful mosquito species through genetic engineering, and seeds modified to resist climate change – and promised he'd get back to Musk with a "super-long description of the ideas."
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The conversation then took a turn. By the time Gates had arrived in Austin for the SpaceX tour, he had lost $1.5 billion on his Tesla bet and Musk was "seething." Gates said he apologized, but "that did not placate Musk," according to the author. "Once he heard I'd shorted the stock, he was super mean to me, but he's super mean to so many people, so you can't take it too personally," Gates reported.
When quizzed by Isaacsson on why he had shorted the stock, "he explained that he had calculated that the supply of electric cars would get ahead of demand, causing prices to fall." Pressed to clarify, he admitted that it was to "make money." Old habits die hard.
"How can someone say they are passionate about fighting climate change and then do something that reduced the overall investment in the company doing the most?" Musk later confided in the author. "It's pure hypocrisy. Why make money on the failure of a sustainable energy car company?"
Far be it from us to suggest that running a rocket company and an electric car company simultaneously could also be construed as "pure hypocrisy" but self-awareness isn't known to be a hallmark of the ultra rich.
"I imagine it's a little bit of a dick-measuring contest," said musician Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, Musk's former squeeze, in her interpretation of the incident.
Despite the clash, Gates came through with his "personally written" paper on philanthropy options and heard back from Musk while sitting with Rory in the dining room of the Four Seasons in Washington.
"Do you still have a half billion dollar short position against Tesla?"
"Just say yes, and then change the subject quickly," Rory advised his dad.
"Sorry to say I haven't closed it out," Gates texted back. "I would like to discuss philanthropy possibilities."
"Sorry," came Musk's reply. "I cannot take your philanthropy on climate seriously when you have a massive short position against Tesla, the company doing the most to solve climate change."
It was after this exchange that Musk ridiculed Gates's figure on Twitter, Isaacsson writes, all of which lines up well with the entrepreneur's unique take on adult behavior.
We doubt neither Musk nor Isaacsson (former editor of Time, once CEO of CNN, and author of countless biographies on historical figures) need even more money, but it pains us to admit that this tale, coupled with the SpaceX episode in the Ukraine war, suggests the book will be a cracker. ®