Ashlee Vance’s “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the quest for a fantastic future” tells the story of the Silicon Valley superstar heading Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity. The book shows how these three businesses are re-shaping the electric car, space travel, and household solar energy industries. It gives a detailed technical account of Musk’s professional endeavors and weaves in vivid descriptions of his intense management style and chaotic private life. What drives Musk is not the money. It is to create a better future for humanity by solving sustainable energy and “becoming a multi-planetary species with a self-sustaining civilization on another planet – to cope with a worst-case scenario happening and extinguishing human consciousness”. This goes against the over-used saying that typically follows a description of all the bad things happening on earth: ‘There is no Planet B’. Musk’s agenda is to do what he can to help clean up the mess on this planet (universalize sustainable energy) while kick starting Plan B on Planet B (significantly reduce space travel costs to bring one million humans to colonize Mars over the next century). Wow. And he plans on dying on Mars. For me, the 360-page book was a fascinating journey into industries I know little about, and into the life of an extra-ordinary person. At times, I could not absorb all the technical details and had to skip a few pages. And I missed a good analysis of the danger of a “personality cult” approach to progress. The author is, no doubt, a huge Elon Musk fan and, at times, portrays him as a self-made visionary genius who revolutionizes industries almost by himself. Amanda Schaffer’s “Tech’s Enduring Great-Man Myth” nicely articulates this issue and reminds us that most breakthrough innovations attributed to the Steve Jobs and Elon Musk of this world were largely made possible by earlier substantial public investments.
In her lunch with the FT [paywall], Mariana Mazzucato argues that the contribution of the state in the success of private tech companies should be acknowledged and paid back: “So when Justin Bieber goes into space and unfortunately comes back, part of the price he’s paid to SpaceX goes to NASA’s budget. It’s all NASA technology. That way NASA can fund its next mission.” I’ll make this my quote of the week.
Dani Rodrik’s “Back to fundamentals in emerging markets” looks at the end of the emerging markets golden era and draws a few lessons. Looking back, it questions the relevance of country groupings such as BRICS given the now-heavily-exposed diversity of their growth patterns. Looking forward, it urges for a refocus on real economy and governance reforms, away from heavy reliance on foreign finance. [Tu peux trouver une version française de l’article ici.]
My graph of the week is by World Bank’s Tariq Khokhar who uses the UN’s 2015 Revision of World Population Prospects data to extract 4 powerful charts heavily picked up by the (social) media [Why couldn’t the UN authors take this extra user-friendly step? I wonder]. Looking at regional population dynamics from now to 2100, the message is clear.