How Person of the Year Elon Musk Tests Washington’s Power

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It’s Elon Musk’s world. We’re just living in it.

That’s the take-away from this year’s Selection of the billionaire innovator as TIME’s Person of the Year, a RolleOur newsroom has been making decisions for nearly a century, without any distinction between good and evil. Anyone concerned about increasing inequality around the world will be upset by today’s pick. It is the perfect choice for anyone who has been following the market with their tweets from bathroom, and all that comes with disruption. For Musk’s die-hard supporters, which are legion, it will feel long overdue.
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Musk’s Tesla, which now carrying a higher ValueThe electric and self-driving vehicle market was remade by SpaceX, Ford and General Motors. His SpaceX program has lapped NASA, so much so that America’s astronauts now hitch rides on his vehicles. Musk is a favourite target of the powerful because of his indifference to Establishment. As TIME’s team on his project note, Musk “bends governments and industry to the force of his ambition.”

Why should Washington be concerned about this selection? Musk was considered a fringe eccentric who is on the edge of becoming poor just a few short years back. Now, he’s leading the consideration of Earth’s Plan B, a Noah’s Ark into the heavens should this planet turn uninhabitable. His plan is to have a shuttle going to Mars within five years, as though it’s as common as the LaGuardia-Reagan shuttle that runs hourly between New York and D.C. As our editor in chief, Edward Felsenthal, writes, Musk is “the man who aspires to save our planet and get us a new one to inhabit.”

Photo by Mark Mahaney, TIME

Musk, in the meantime is the only human capable of running a single-person government. He’s the richest private person on the planet, although he jokes that Russians’ Vladimir Putin probably has him beat in wealth and certainly in military might. He is cozying up to China’s autocratic regime in order to grease his company’s expansion. His ambition has tested the limits of regulation; his cars’ auto-pilot function is under investigation from feds who want to know why there are so many Tesla crashes involving parked vehicles. And his companies deserve tough scrutiny in this town, especially when it comes to how they treat workers and, to some eyes, how they—and he as an individual—dodge taxes.

The world’s new class of billionaire masters of the universe is set to challenge the old ways of doing things, and TIME’s Person of the Year franchise has a history of capturing them, as we did in 1999 with Jeff BezosAnd in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg. These numbers become simply too huge to allow government control. No labor regulators have proven capable of matching Bezos’ near-monopoly on e-commerce, and campaign finance regulations could not counter the power of social media in recent elections. Musk claims he would like to divert capital from the government into private funds that can, in his opinion, do more good than any bureaucrat.

In a post-pandemic world, such ambition and moxy may define the human race’s future. And that’s why TIME picked Musk as its Person of the Year.

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