Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported on Elon Musk’s drug use. Not just marijuana, which he (in)famously smoked on Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2018 — mushrooms, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and ketamine, the last for which Musk claims he has a prescription. The Journal claims that board members at his companies are aware of and concerned about his drug use, so much so that one former Tesla board member stepped down due to her concerns about Musk’s habit and behavior. 

Musk, for his part, has denied the Journal’s reporting, writing on the platform formerly known as Twitter: “After that one puff with Rogan, I agreed, at NASA’s request, to do three years of random drug testing. Not even trace quantities were found of any drugs or alcohol.” I will leave evaluating the accuracy of that second sentence as an exercise for the reader.

One of my best friends from home is an Army Ranger. He gets regularly tested for illegal drug use, as do all government employees and contractors. Elon Musk is, among other things, a government contractor. SpaceX’s Dragon rocket is the only NASA-approved vehicle for taking astronauts to the International Space Station and has received billions in government contracts. Starlink, a network of satellites deployed using SpaceX rockets, is by far the dominant player in the field; its units already make up over half of all active satellites, and Musk plans to put thousands more into orbit. 

Given his alleged drug habits, pattern of openly flouting federal securities law and business interests in China, the Washington Post Editorial Board wrote that “government agencies should at the very least consider whether it is wise to renew their contracts or sign on to others.” 

Ukraine, for instance, relies on Starlink for its defense effort against Russia’s invasion. According to a recent biography, Musk deactivated Starlink service near Crimea in September of 2021 to thwart a Ukrainian attack on the Russian navy, because he did not personally approve of the operation. He later confirmed this on Twitter. The New York Times reported that Musk has restricted where Starlink is available in Ukraine depending on how battle lines shift and his personal assessment of Ukrainian tactics. 

More importantly, Elon Musk has enormous business interests in China. My former boss, Matt Yglesias, has written at length about this — but I’ll give you the short version. Tesla is building more and more of its cars in China and its new factory in Shanghai is its largest in the world, expected to produce over half of its cars worldwide. Most of Musk’s cars are sold in China, and  Tesla is exempt from the normal requirement that companies selling cars in the Chinese market must be joint-owned by a Chinese firm

As Tesla’s ties to China have deepened, Musk’s publicly stated views on the Chinese government have morphed from critical to effusive — praising China’s infrastructure and COVID-19 response and advocating for incorporating Taiwan into a “special administrative zone,” similar to Hong Kong. We all know how well that turned out. 

As Matt points out, none of this is surprising at all. The Chinese market is very large and very lucrative. Western firms want to get a piece of it, and the price of doing business is staying mum about the Chinese government’s human rights abuses. So the NBA, Apple, Mercedes and John Cena toe the CCP line because business is business. The only difference between them and Musk is that none of them controls infrastructure critical to American defense policy. 

Musk’s China ties are already shaping the way he runs Starlink. In an interview with the Financial Times, he “says Beijing sought assurances that he would not sell Starlink in China.” The New York Times has reported that Taiwan is reluctant to use Starlink because of “tremendous concerns” over Musk’s business interests in China. 

Which brings me back to the Post’s editorial. They are of course completely correct about the drugs and the erratic behavior and Musk’s business interests. But their solution is lacking. The United States government should do more than review its contracts — it should nationalize Starlink. Ketamine habit aside, Elon Musk has a massive conflict of interest and cannot be trusted to put the national interest over his own bottom line. Uncle Sam can and should resolve this conflict by buying Starlink, for a fair price.

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, so the question of how exactly to go about with nationalization must be left for another day. But I do know a thing or two about politics, and given his recent rightward turn, if the Biden administration took my advice, Musk would undoubtedly cry political persecution. “Clearly, the White House is targeting me for my political views and public criticisms of the president!” Conservatives’ belief in a “two-tiered justice system” that holds Democrats to a lower standard would be bolstered, which would further erode public trust in the rule of law. But a Republican administration would be less vulnerable on that front. So if Donald Trump wins this fall, he should do more than talk the talk on China — he should walk the walk and nationalize Starlink.

MILAN SINGH
Milan Singh is a sophomore in Pierson College, and one of the News' Opinion editors for the 2024-2025 school year.