Elon Musk says China has an advantage because its politicians are better at science

Key Points
  • If American politicians were better at science, then it would help tech companies with innovation, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
  • Politicians in China, including the mayor of Beijing, were better at science, he said on comedian Joe Rogan's podcast called "The Joe Rogan Experience."
  • The role of government in the technology sector is a frequently debated topic around the world.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla
Beck Diefenbach | Reuters

If politicians were better at science, tech companies could probably innovate better, according to Elon Musk.

The Tesla CEO appeared on comedian Joe Rogan's podcast called "The Joe Rogan Experience" late Thursday where he spoke on a wide range of topics including artificial intelligence (AI).

"You know, I wish politicians were better at science. That would help a lot," Musk said when Rogan asked him about bottlenecks at the companies he runs and the things that were holding back innovation.

Musk agreed with Rogan that there are not incentives for American politicians to be good at science.

"Actually, they're pretty good at science in China, I have to say," Musk said, adding, "The mayor of Beijing has, I believe, an environmental engineering degree, and the deputy mayor has a physics degree. I met them."

Beijing's mayor, Chen Jining, is a "doctor of engineering" and a professor, and obtained a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering from Imperial College, London. Beijing has multiple vice mayors and it wasn't immediately clear whom Musk was talking about.

"And the mayor of Shanghai is really smart," Musk said about Ying Yong, who holds a masters degree in law, according to the government's website.

The role of government in the technology sector is a frequently debated topic around the world. Many argue that if governments come up with heavy-handed regulations against tech companies, or push for unfavorable policies, it could potentially stifle innovation.

Recently, U.S. lawmakers grilled Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey over what the tech giants are doing to fight abuse on social platforms and online election meddling. Other American tech names are worried about the impact of a potential new round of U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. Dell, Cisco, Juniper Networks and Hewlett Packard Enterprise reportedly sent a last minute letter to the U.S. Trade Representative's office asking for an exemption, worried that it could increase their costs and potentially lead to job losses.

For his part, Musk is facing a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission on whether he violated securities laws after he claimed in a tweet that he had the funds to take Tesla private. Musk has since posted that, based on the feedback he received, it was apparent that most of Tesla's existing shareholders believed it was better off as a public company.

In China, local tech companies are already required by law to cooperate with domestic authorities — to the point that it has led to growing national security concerns from intelligence officials in the West. While Beijing has pushed for innovation and promoted entrepreneurship, the government still has plenty of oversight on tech companies.

Recently, for example, Beijing blocked tech giant Tencent from selling a blockbuster video game "Monster Hunter: World" on its distribution platform, WeGame. Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial has also come under pressure on several fronts from regulators. Alipay, the massive digital payment service that Ant Financial operates, was hit by a central bank decision to raise the reserve funds ratio of third-party payment firms to 50 percent, with the expectation that the ratio will be raised eventually to 100 percent and further squeeze profits, according to Reuters.

The newswire also reported that Ant Financial was singled out by the People's Bank of China as the only online finance firm for a trial program to test stricter regulations on financial holding conglomerates.

Still, the country is also aggressively pursuing certain technologies including artificial intelligence and semiconductors as part of its Made in China 2025 plan. Earlier this year, Beijing said it would build a $2 billion AI research park to aid in its goal of becoming the leader in the technology by 2025. At the same time, China has raised multiple funds for semiconductor development within the country since 2014.