For someone who runs multiple companies, is developing a rocket that can send people to Mars, and goes to fancy galas with his celebrity girlfriend, Elon Musk sure has a lot of time to stoke fires and instigate arguments.
This is what has always separated Musk from other billionaire entrepreneurs of the era. At a time when Silicon Valley moguls are more likely to be attention-shunning app developers than celebrities, Musk has worked as hard at cultivating a larger-than-life persona as he has at his business endeavors. In a way, it makes sense - if you already had hundreds of millions of dollars by your early 30s and then developed a fanbase that hung on your every word, you'd get a big head, too.
Musk's public personality has garnered him some good publicity, but it has also gotten him a lot of controversy. From other billionaires to random Twitter users, there's no one he's afraid to have words with - for better or for worse. These are some of the weirder arguments Musk has had in public.
1. Elon Musk vs. Wall Street Analysts
Musk has spent years receiving fawning praise as a genius and a visionary. But as Tesla burned through cash and failed to make production targets on the Model 3 in 2018, the press started to instead focus on whether Tesla could survive at the rate in which they were going through capital.
When Musk was on an earnings call with Wall Street analysts to discuss their Tesla's Q1 earnings, he was not exactly kind to them. In between some actual answers about Tesla, he was short with a number of analysts, dismissing one question outright and saying "Boring, boneheaded questions are not cool. Next." He described moats as "lame" and eventually said the questions were "dry," taking a break from them to spend an extended amount of time taking questions from a YouTuber.
Whether due to stress from failing to make their targeted numbers or Musk's notoriously long hours (he's known to sleep in his office), the Tesla CEO failed to come off as someone who was spicing things up in a stuffy earnings call and sounded more like a crank who didn't want to deal with questions.
Musk also said he didn't particularly care if people sell the stock, and he had a chance to prove it; after the call, Tesla's shares sank. And his prickly attitude toward the analysts certainly hasn't dissuaded them, as after the call many were still saying Tesla needed to raise more capital if it wanted to survive.
2. Elon Musk vs. Warren Buffett
When Musk insulted moats, he was referring to an economic term that was coined by fellow billionaire Warren Buffett that refers to competitive advantages companies have that create a buffer between them and other companies. A few days after Musk's strange call, Buffett appeared on CNBC and defended the need for moats.
Buffett said "Elon may turn things upside down in some areas. I don't think he'd want to take us on in candy," which is a reference to Berkshire Hathaway's ownership of See's Candies. Shortly after, Musk went to where he usually goes to proclaim statements. Twitter:
He followed it up with a tweet that he was "super super serious" and later put out a since-deleted Instagram post of a box of candy - specifically peanut brittle - with the Boring brand logo (The Boring Company is Musk's tunnel construction company). The box was made to look like a See's Candies peanut-brittle box.
It's not immediately clear if it was just a promotional gimmick to follow up on his tweet or an actual look at future Boring candy products, but it's hard to think of a crazier, pettier way of heightening an argument than spitefully starting a new business - especially one called Boring Candy.
3. Elon Musk vs. A.I.
Artificial intelligence technology has made some unbelievable strides in terms of everyday technological use, but is it close to the super-smart, sentience-gaining A.I. that sci-fi movies warn about? Musk seems to think it's inevitable.
Musk's fear of artificial intelligence go even beyond the worry of what automation would do to job creation. He has called it "far more dangerous than nukes." In the documentary Do You Trust This Computer?, he warns of the possibilities of A.I. taking over the human race and becoming an outright dictator.
Musk has asked that there be more governmental regulation as A.I. continues to rapidly develop. Regulation and oversight is an understandable part of the argument. Saying A.I. is literally more dangerous than nuclear weapons, maybe less so. Elon has also made sure to make a distinction between general artificial intelligence and A.I. that serves specific functions - like, say, the self-driving cars Tesla is trying to develop.
4. Elon Musk vs. Basically Anyone on Twitter
Musk will make controversial statements basically anywhere, but most often he does it on Twitter, to a follower base of more than 21 million.
One of the earliest examples of this was in 2015, after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced on Twitter that his space program, Blue Origin, had successfully launched its rocket New Shepard into space and successfully soft-landed it. Bezos bringing the rocket back intact was a major step, and completely stole the thunder of Tesla's similar attempts at the time.
Musk offered a tweet of congratulations at first, but quickly began nitpicking Blue Origin's achievement, mentioning how SpaceX's Grasshopper rocket made several suborbital flights and landed successfully too (though he didn't mention that Grasshopper never flew more than half a mile, while New Shepard traveled more than 62 miles).
Musk has been trying to start feuds on Twitter ever since. Sometimes it's fellow billionaires like with Bezos and Buffett, sometimes he'll respond to his skeptics in the public transit industry - to call them idiots.
It's all a part of the Elon Musk brand, the billionaire who makes himself available to the people on social media - just sometimes it's to argue with them instead of chat with fans. Where does he find the time to do both?