Elon Musk dislikes government rules— unless he proposes them

Elon Musk Dislikes Government Rules— Unless He Proposes Them
Elon Musk Dislikes Government Rules— Unless He Proposes Them


The world’s richest man is looking to cut through regulations, except for AI, where he is asking for them.

Elon Musk has returned to a favorite lament: his war on government regulations.

“Like Gulliver, tied down by thousands…of little strings, we lose our freedom one regulation at a time," Musk posted on Twitter-turned-X Monday.

The exact target of his ire wasn’t clear as he currently faces several challenges across his business empire. His latest gripe comes as he also is publicly recommending new regulations.

That paradox was on display earlier this month as Musk and other tech leaders met with more than 60 U.S. senators. He warned about the threat of artificial intelligence as part of his continued advocacy for rules to limit the development of AI.

After years of cautioning about AI’s potential dangers, his warnings have taken on new relevance with the sudden success of startups such as OpenAI, and the potential for unleashing advanced versions of the technology in near future.

Part of his concern, Musk has said, stems from worry that developers looking to catch up might cut corners that might lead to the same sorts of dangers envisioned in “The Terminator" and other killer-robot movies.

“There has to be some kind of referee on the field here," Musk said in July during a forum on X, the social-media platform he bought last year. “I think it’s actually more dangerous for companies that are behind that might take shortcuts that could be dangerous."

Such doomsday warnings irk some in the industry, who chalk up such talk as a distraction or, cynically, a marketing scheme, and worry it could give foreign competitors an advantage by slowing down development. Musk’s position on the matter can be confusing too, because at the same time he calls for caution, he has also founded his own company, xAI, to do the kinds of work he worries could go wrong.

In recent months, Musk has pushed for a pause in development of certain powerful AI tools so new safety nets can be implemented, and called for the creation of a regulatory body to oversee development, “to prevent danger to the public."

“You can’t just go make a nuke in your garage," Musk said, and then flubbed the names of some agencies as he continued, “We have the Food and Drug Administration, we’ve got the Federal Aviation Authority, we’ve got the Department of Transport—there’s all of these regulatory authorities that we put in place in order to ensure public safety."Yet in the not-so distant past, Musk hasn’t sounded so supportive of some of these government bodies.

His battles with regulators are well documented, bravado that became part of his mystique as he became the world’s richest man: an engineer bucking established industries and bureaucracies in pursuit of a greater good, whether it is SpaceX’s mission to reach the stars or Tesla’s goal of ushering in an electric-car era.

Part of those battles have included his mocking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as “the fun police" and ridiculing the Federal Aviation Administration’s space division as “fundamentally broken." And infamously, during a skirmish with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he suggested the regulator’s acronym was short for blank Elon’s blank.

Musk has talked about what he thinks is the proper role for governments. “It’s government’s responsibility to establish the rules of the game, and then ensure that those rules are properly enforced, sort of like the referees on the field," he said at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit in 2020.

Now, he is in another period of jostling with those referees.

Tesla was hit this past week with a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the automaker subjected workers at its factory outside of San Francisco to racial harassment among other claims. Tesla has said it opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment.

When SpaceX might be able to launch its giant rocket, dubbed Starship, is unclear after it was revealed in early September that the FAA is requiring SpaceX to implement scores of changes before it can try again after an inaugural April liftoff.

Also, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun an environmental review of SpaceX’s updates to the launchpad, which could take several months.

Fuming about the Fish and Wildlife Service, Musk tweeted on Sept. 20: “It is absurd that SpaceX can build a giant rocket faster than they can shuffle paperwork!"

Swift action has long been a hallmark of Musk’s operations. And good luck to anyone perceived as standing in his way, even if their job is to enforce rules aimed at ensuring safety and public good.

Assurances about moving fast were on Musk’s mind in 2020 when discussing building a new factory near Austin, Texas. In response, the city assigned someone to shepherd Tesla through the permitting process, said Steve Adler, who was mayor at the time. The arrangement was atypical, he added, and designed to help Tesla get its factory up and running quickly.

It is the kind of treatment Musk wants.

“We are practically making construction illegal in this country," Musk said at an energy conference in June.

Musk’s urgency at his newly acquired social-media company has also come under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission, which reached a $150 million settlement with the company last year, prior to Musk’s involvement, over alleged failures to protect users’ privacy and security.

Musk has asked a federal court to terminate the agreement. In response, the FTC has raised new concerns about the way he is running the company.

San Francisco city officials, meanwhile, have been trying to deal with the rapid changes ordered by Musk to X’s headquarters, where his directive to convert conference rooms into sleeping rooms attracted building inspectors. The company’s decision to erect a giant X sign with strobing lights on the roof over the summer ignited a protest by neighbors as it lit up the night sky like the bat signal.

The work was done without a permit, according to the city. And the sign was later removed.

Amid the hubbub, Musk responded with a tweet of a laughing emoji.

Rebecca Elliott contributed to this article.

Write to Tim Higgins at

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