‘You are a modern day moron’: Elon Musk and a former US labor secretary trade blows

elon musk
Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer of SpaceX speaks at the 2020 Satellite Conference and Exhibition March 9, 2020 in Washington, DC.
  • Elon Musk and Robert Reich, a former US labor secretary, got into it on Twitter. 
  • Reich accused the billionaire of being a "modern day robber baron" for cutting worker pay during the pandemic while his own wealth surged. 
  • Musk countered that all Tesla workers had stock too, calling Reich a "modern day moron."
  • It's not the first time Musk has been sensitive to attacks on his wealth, which sits around $90 billion. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

 

"You're a modern day moron" was Elon Musk's blunt response to criticism from former US labor secretary Robert Reich on Twitter Wednesday.

Tesla's chief executive was responding to allegations by the Clinton-era cabinet member that he was a "modern day robber baron" — a term referring to US capitalists in the 19th century who gained their wealth through exploitation — for forcing pay cuts on employees as the coronavirus pandemic hampered the company's ability to make and sell cars.

"Tesla forced all workers to take a 10 percent pay cut from mid-April until July," Reich, who's garnered a reputation for spicy political takes during Donald Trump's presidency, said Tuesday. "In the same period, Tesla stock skyrocketed and CEO Elon Musk's net worth quadrupled from $25 billion to over $100 billion."

 

Musk, whose wealth is largely tied to equity in his companies, including Tesla, countered that "all Tesla workers also get stock, so their compensation increased proportionately. You are a modern day moron."

As Tesla was forced to close its only US car factory in March because of local shelter-in-place rules, Musk sparred with county leaders online and even filed a lawsuit against them. When allowed to restart production, Tesla told employees they wouldn't be forced to return to work if they were worried about exposure. However, two workers told the Washington Post that they were sent termination notices after not returning.

As his net worth hits new heights, Musk seems to be increasingly sensitive to criticisms of his wealth. In follow-up tweets Tuesday, Musk seemed to agree with a user's assessment that "billionaire hating is the new in-thing to do." That follows comments from earlier this year when he told comedian and podcast host Joe Rogan that the word billionaire has "become a pejorative."

As Tesla's stock price surged this year, Musk's wealth rose in step to hit a high of $100 billion before a market-wide selloff caused a 16% plunge. He's currently worth $90 billion, according to Bloomberg's calculations.

Shares of Tesla are up 345% this year.

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