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Has Elon Musk Paid the “Most Taxes Ever in History”?

Elon Musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said he’s paid more taxes than anyone else, joking that he’d take “a cookie” from the IRS. Is Musk’s statement true? Credit: Bill Ingalls, via Flickr/Public Domain

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made a number of unusual and even outlandish claims over the years, but his claim that he would “pay more taxes than any American in history this year” ruffled some feathers.

Is this claim true? It’s hard to determine, since only the IRS knows for certain, but Forbes suggests Musk is actually telling the truth.

“The eccentric billionaire — and the world’s richest person — likely owes the federal government at least $8.3 billion for 2021,” Forbes wrote. This figure counters what Business Insider has reported.

“Taxes on his stock, nearly a billion in Net Investment Income Tax, and the billions he likely owes California could add up to about $12 billion in total,” Business Insider reporters Jason Lalljee and Andy Kiersz stated in their story on Musk. In contrast, CNBC figured his tax bill was even higher, at $15 billion, which perfectly exemplifies the fact that no one, except for the IRS, knows if Musk’s claim is true.

The majority of Musk’s tax bill stems from his Tesla stock sell-offs.

Is Elon Musk “freeloading”?

In December, US Senator Elizabeth Warren declared that Musk was “freeloading” off the backs of ordinary people.

That tweet, which racked up nearly 54,000 likes, got Musk’s attention, leading to a back-and-fourth that became a debate on tax policy.

“He’s the richest guy in the world, and he just doesn’t want to pay taxes,” Warren said. “That’s what it’s all about for me.”

Musk’s tweets in response, including one in which he linked a Fox News article about Warren’s Native American ethnicity, stirred quite a few feathers.

“I gotta say, on behalf of every school teacher who pays taxes, on behalf of every waitress who pays taxes, on behalf of every American citizen who goes out and works for a living and pays taxes … that’s just fundamentally wrong,” Warren said. “We have a broken tax system that lets Elon Musk freeload off everyone else, and it needs to stop.”

Warren’s claim appears to hint at a mid-2021 ProPublica article in which Musk is alleged to have paid less than $70,000 in federal income taxes between 2015 and 2017 — and nothing at all in 2018.

Elon Musk-Elizabeth Warren reignite beef

Last month, a video of Warren made the rounds on Twitter. In it, the American politician claimed Musk paid absolutely nothing in taxes, referring to the ProPublica reporting from 2021, referencing his 2018 return in which he paid zero federal income tax.

The clip was retweeted by Sawyer Merritt, the founder of Twin Birch, a sustainable clothing brand. Musk replied to Merritt’s claim that Musk would be paying the “single largest tax bill of any individual in history,” at $11 billion, resulting in fireworks.

“Maybe I can have a cookie or something”

Musk replied, saying, he’ll “visit IRS (sic) next time I’m in DC just to say hi, since I paid the most taxes ever in history for an individual last year. Maybe I can have a cookie or something…”

The billionaire received his usual flurry of social media buzz, racking up nearly 9,000 retweets and almost 70,000 likes in less than 24 hours.

“You say that like it’s some feat of generosity,” a user said in reply to Musk’s cookie tweet. “If you (sic) the richest person in history then you are obligated to pay the largest tax bill in history.”

Others warmed to the idea of Musk visiting the IRS offices, with one user replying: “Is there a particular kind of cookie that you’re looking during your visit?”

Musk garnered controversy earlier this year following a controversial tweet that compared Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler, in response to the Canadian “Freedom Convoy.”

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