Elon Musk is on his way to becoming the next Henry Ford.
That is not a compliment.
In his early entrepreneurial years, Ford was a revolutionary: an innovative genius who transformed the way Americans traveled, worked, and lived. Ford effectively created the modern assembly line, driving down manufacturing costs, raising productivity, and making it possible to sell cars at low prices. Ford’s inexpensive and durable Model T, introduced in 1908, brought automobiles within the reach of average Americans. Ford dominated the car industry as a result; in the early 1920s, more than half the cars on the world’s roads were built by Ford.
Following in Ford’s footsteps, Musk has become the leading innovator in the 21st century auto industry. Thanks to the successful line of electric vehicles produced by his company, Tesla, Musk has challenged a century of rigid orthodoxy — dating back to Ford — that proclaimed the gasoline-powered engine king of the road. By taking on the corporate giants of the auto industry and winning, Musk has succeeded where other flamboyant and egocentric entrepreneurs like John DeLorean, who briefly built the 1980s-era gull-winged car now mainly remembered for its time-traveling role in the movie “Back to the Future,” failed.
Unfortunately, Elon Musk now seems grimly determined to walk Henry Ford’s path much further than he should, for after his spectacular early success, Ford turned very dark, very quickly. The consequences of his hateful actions continue to poison the world today.
After he had accumulated massive wealth and achieved global fame, Ford allowed bigotry and paranoia to dominate his life. Deeply anti-union, he created a network of company spies who surveilled his employees and tried to control their lives. He also bought a newspaper that disseminated lies and antisemitic conspiracy theories. He followed that up by publishing a series of antisemitic books that were influential among Nazis and other European fascists between the First and Second World Wars.
Ford became a favorite of Adolf Hitler, who kept a photo of the automaker in his office. “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” Hitler told the Detroit News in 1931. [Continue reading…]