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Elon Musk Wants $50 Billion or He’ll Walk

Unless Tesla shareholders grant him this tidy bonus, he’s threatened to take his marbles elsewhere.

Elon Musk arrives at an event in Los Angeles, April 13, 2024.,Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

It’s election season near and far. Voting begins today, and continues through Sunday, for the European Parliament, in which parties of the far right are expected to pick up seats. India’s just-completed election demonstrated the limits of Hindu nationalism, with lower-class (and -caste) Hindus joining Muslims to put the brakes on Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu-über-alles policies. Mexico’s incoming president is a female progressive climate scientist—a trifecta breakthrough for our southern neighbor. And on July 4, U.K. voters will go to the polls, likely to reject the continued misrule of the Etonian twits and LizTrussian libertarians who lead the Tory party.

But the most ridiculous and outrageous of this month’s elections will take place one week from today in our very own United States. On June 13, Tesla shareholders will vote on whether to grant founder and CEO Elon Musk a bonus worth roughly $50 billion (estimates range from $45 billion to $56 billion).

This is the first time in recorded history that the proposed pay level of a single person has been so large that it’s actually a macroeconomic issue.

Over the past several months, we’ve seen shareholder fights over various CEO compensation packages, including the reward of $30 million to the outgoing head of Boeing. The proposed Musk bonus, however, is more than 1,000 times the amount proposed for Boeing’s ex. No remotely comparable paycheck appears ever to have existed. The Musk bonus is more in line with the amount of money that Congress appropriated for Ukraine—$61 billion—earlier this year after months of legislative and political maneuvering. Moving this amount of money is customarily a question before nations, not shareholders or banks, and only very wealthy nations at that.

The tale begins in 2023, when Musk purchased Twitter through some bank loans secured by his Tesla holdings, as well as $20 billion that Musk put up himself through the sale of some of his Tesla stock. His moves caused Tesla’s share value to plummet, costing him roughly another $20 billion or thereabouts. In consequence, Musk fell from his perch as the planet’s wealthiest person all the way down to the planet’s third-wealthiest person. By granting Musk $50 billion in stock, Tesla shareholders could push him back up to where Musk believes he belongs: not just Earth’s wealthiest human, but also a guy worth more than the GDP of numerous small countries.

This isn’t the first time Musk’s cronies on Tesla’s board of directors have asked shareholders to reward him with a bonus of this size, but the reward that those shareholders approved was struck down by a chancery judge in Delaware, where Tesla, like most major U.S. corporations, is incorporated. On June 13, shareholders will not only have the opportunity to rectify that judge’s mistake, but also to move the company’s incorporation from Delaware to Texas, where law and the Texas Rangers have always favored the rich.

Several of the leading companies that advise shareholders on how to vote, including ISS and Glass Lewis, have recommended that shareholders reject granting the bonus, noting that the value of Tesla’s stock ain’t what it used to be, and that other companies have now entered the market that Tesla effectively had to itself for the past decade. Musk himself has lobbied for the bonus on X (the new name for Twitter) and issued dark hints that he might redirect his energies to some of the other companies he owns, such as SpaceX, if he’s not suitably rewarded. (His redirected energies to X, I’m compelled to report, have not necessarily helped that company.) Indeed, just this week, Musk ordered Nvidia to redirect AI chips that Tesla had ordered to two of his other companies, X and xAI.

In both speech and action, Musk has made clear that he abhors unions, telling one New York Times DealBook forum that he’s opposed to the very idea, and refusing to bargain with the Tesla mechanics in Sweden—where 90 percent of the workforce is unionized and employer acceptance of unions is the norm—who’ve joined a union. But by withholding those AI chips from Tesla and redirecting them to his other concerns, and by threatening to all but abandon Tesla unless he gets his greater-by-orders-of-magnitude-than-anything-in-human-history bonus, Musk has become the one-man equivalent of a protesting union: Give me a raise or I’ll walk off the job.

Let it not be said, then, that Elon Musk is against all unions. When it comes to the Union of Elon Musk, he’s a total fanboy.

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Harold Meyerson is editor at large of The American Prospect.

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