The competition between two business heavyweights presses on, with Elon Musk continuing to poke fun at business magnate Warren Buffett’s “moats.” The SpaceX and Tesla CEO offered an alternate term to describe Buffett’s investing principle of keeping out direct competitors: oligopolies. The scathing terminology quickly surged in Google searches as the internet tries to wrap its brain around these bizarre exchanges.
The tension between Musk and Buffett first began during a particularly strange Tesla earnings call on Wednesday, when Musk called Buffett’s use of strategic moats a “lame” practice. Buffett responded directly to Musk’s point at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting on Saturday, saying that “Elon may turn things upside down in some areas. I don’t think he’d want to take us on in candy.” By Saturday evening, Musk was repeatedly tweeting jokes about Buffett interspersed with plans to start a candy company.
“Then I’m going to build a moat & fill it [with] candy. Warren B will not be able to resist investing! Berkshire Hathaway kryptonite,” Musk tweeted to his 21.6 million followers. The SpaceX CEO seemed pretty entertained by his own jokes, evening tweeting “I’m killing me lol.” However, Musk ended his Twitter thread on a serious note, one that sparked a massive surge in Google searches and speaks to a larger problem in the current market structures.
“Saying you like ‘moats’ is just a nice way of saying you like oligopolies,” Musk tweeted late on Saturday. The term became an overnight trend, where internet users were searching for the term to assess the weight of Musk’s accusation. The term refers to a market or industry that is dominated by only a small number of corporations. This allows the oligopolies to set prices rather than accept them, leading to higher prices for consumers.
Musk’s accusation comes just a few days after he spoke with Tesla shareholders at Wednesday’s earnings call, where he discussed the upcoming Model 3. Tesla ramped up production to fulfill the approximately 400,000 pre-orders and is now working at a production rate of 2,000 cars per week.
If the Model Y’s entry into the market is a future “manufacturing revolution,” as Musk describes, then Buffett may represent the old guard of market strategies, complete with castles and moats. Whether Musk really launches a candy company or not, his discussion of oligopolies signals that there are more industries he’d like to disrupt.