Friday, April 29, 2022

Updated: A year ago at the blog we were talking about about the disconnect between Musk pontificators and the reporters on the beat. Let's see how that's going

As soon as I run a post, perfect examples start showing up.


Picking up from Wednesday and Noah Smith's misinformed defense of the non-founder of Tesla and PayPal. 

While Musk's attempt to buy Twitter has focused the attention of many in the press and a lot of disturbing stories have come out since last year, many commentators are still perplexed at the hostility toward Elon, particularly among liberals who, according to conventional wisdom, should be the ones who hold him in the highest regard. 

An example from an associate editor of Reason (I assume center-right politically).
Worth noting that by 2021, Tesla had largely dropped out of the clean energy business.
In the fourth quarter of 2017, Tesla reported a 43% drop in solar deployments compared with when it purchased SolarCity. The company ended up losing its market-leading position in 2018 and now hovers around 2% of the residential solar market, according to Wood Mackenzie. In the first and second quarters of 2021, Tesla installed 92 and 85 megawatts of solar, respectively. That’s less than half of what SolarCity was installing per quarter before the acquisition.

Tesla moved some solar employees to work on building the company’s electric cars and batteries, fired other solar employees, and moved others who had been doing new installations to work on repairs and remediation.
And that Musk's relationship with the ACLU is... complicated.
Beyond that, notice that Binion's they-hate-him-because-he's-rich is the same one used by center-left Matt Yglesias a year ago. (see below.)

Like Yglesia, NYT columnist Farhad Manjoo is also generally center-left (though he is also the paper's goto guy for blame everything on liberal hypocrisy stories) 
Quick side note: All justifications of Tesla's valuation start with the assumption that it will have a virtual monopoly in the near future, so I guess he's just an aspirational monopolist. 

I cannot think of an example of a major journalist working this beat who has posted one of these "why is everybody mean to Elon?" tweets. Even at Manjoo's own paper, reporters like Neal Boudette are far more likely to point out false statements from Musk and serious safety issues with Tesla's FSD, even when it means dealing with one of the nastiest troll armies on the internet.


And now the reposting starts. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

It actually takes some effort to devise arguments this conventional and this wrong

It is rare that you come across a comment that is so ill-informed in such an informative way.

Barro is such a creature of the standard narrative that not only does he form his opinions based on the carefully crafted persona of Musk; he assumes that everyone else must be doing the same. If someone disagrees with his take, it has to be due to their reacting differently to that narrative.

E.W. Niedermeyer's response to that same initial tweet could be read as a rebuttal to Barro. 
It's safe to say that no one who has been seriously following Musk and Tesla in the Financial Times,  the LA Times, Business Insider, Atlantic, Vanity Fair, or Wired would attribute the criticism to "fun, futuristic and coded with all sorts of “bro” aspects." 

If anything, it is this reputation as a playful visionary (along with the cultivated misimpression that he is some kind of natural engineer) that has largely shielded Musk from his critics for so long. While it might be possible to find people who like their environmentalism dreary, the vast majority desperately want to live in the kind of world Musk promises and couldn't care less about the bro culture trappings. 

The trouble is, most people paying attention have realized that the man is a habitual liar.

Specifically on the question of climate change, here's a reminder of one reason why environmentalists have been falling out of love with Tesla recently.

Jamie Powell writing for FT Alphaville.

From "Tesla: carbon offsetting, but in reverse"

We’re not the first to point this out by any means, but bitcoin is dreadful for the environment. Still don’t believe it? Well Bank of America published an excellent report last week (which can be found on David Gerard’s blog), on the dominant digital coin. And, in particular, its carbon impact. 

 Here are a few choice stats. 

 Bitcoin -- or to be more precise, bitcoin mining -- currently consumes more energy than Greece, and a touch less than the Netherlands. In theory, it wouldn’t be so much of an issue if mining was powered by renewable energy, but 72 per cent of mining is concentrated in China, where nearly two-thirds of all electricity is generated by coal power. 

 For the moment then, bitcoin has carbon emissions that sit comfortably between American Airlines’s output, the world’s largest airline which currently carries 200m passengers per year, and the entire US Federal government. 

 Perhaps the most relevant stat of all, however, is this one:

Monday, May 3, 2021

Josh and the toasty warm take

Following up on a comment by Andrew Gelman, I was going to open this post with a discussion of hot takes, but going through the Twitter feed around this topic, and I saw that lots of mainstream media and political thinkers had the same take, greatly reducing its hotness.

If you'll remember, this started with the following tweet from Josh Barro:

Before we go on, I think it's useful to break down the implicit and explicit points Barro is making. Here's my attempt:

a. Musk is fighting climate change

b. But many environmentalists dislike him

c. Because they disapprove of his style and image

The first two points establish a mystery to be solved; the third offers an explanation. While Barro may have intended this conclusion to be provocative, he treats the premise as axiomatic, as do many others.

And a whole damned essay by James Pethokoukis.

More deeply, Musk is offering an attractive techno-optimist vision of the future. It's one in stark contrast with that offered by anti-capitalists muttering about the need to abandon "fairy tales of eternal economic growth," as teen climate activist Greta Thunberg has put it. Unlike the dour, scarcity-driven philosophy of Thunbergism, Muskism posits that tech-powered capitalism can solve the problems it causes while creating a future of abundance where you can watch immersive video of SpaceX astronauts landing on Mars while traveling in your self-driving Tesla. As journalist Josh Barro neatly summed it up recently, "Environmentalism is supposed to be pain and sacrifice. Because Musk offers an environmental vision that is fun, futuristic and coded with all sorts of 'bro' aspects, he is deeply suspicious and must be stopped."

You'll notice that that these examples include liberals, conservatives and centrists. This is one of the many cases where trying to approach this with an ideological filter not on fails to help, but actually obscures what's going on. The distinction we need to focus on isn't left vs. right but close vs. far.

I don't know of another case where the standard narrative and the story told by reporters on the front lines diverge this radically, and the gap has only grown larger. In one version Musk is a visionary and spectacularly gifted engineer who, though flawed, is motivated only out of a passion for saving the planet. He does amazing things. In the other, he is a con man and a bully who, when goes off script, inevitably reveals a weak grasp of science and technology. Outside of the ability to get money from investors and taxpayers, his accomplishments range from highly exaggerated to the fraudulent.

While this view may not be universal among journalists covering the man, it is the consensus opinion. 

The explanations of Barro et al. are not all that reasonable, but they are probably as good as you can get when you start with the assumption that the standard narrative is right.

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