The Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder, whose net worth is $219bn according to Forbes, called Mr Reich an “idiot and a liar” after he claimed that Mr Musk was able to amass his wealth because his family “owned an emerald mine”.
The University of California, Berkeley professor said in a video that “being ‘self-made’ is a nice idea” because “it suggests that anybody can claw their way to the top if they’re willing to work hard enough”.
“It’s what the American dream is all about,” he added.
Mr Reich mentioned several billionaires who he said had been helped by their families, such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
“The origins of self-made billionaires are often depicted as a ‘rags-to-riches’ rise to the top fueled by nothing but personal grit and the courage to take risks – like dropping out of college or starting a business in a garage,” Mr Reich said.
“But in reality, the origins of many billionaires aren’t so humble,” he said, adding that the billionaires had gone from “riches-to-even-more-riches” as they were “rooted in upper-middle class upbringings”.
Mr Reich said that Mr Musk “came from a wealthy family that owned an emerald mine in apartheid South Africa”.
“You both an idiot and a liar,” Mr Musk tweeted in response, linking to a post by Jeremy Arnold on Substack, arguing against the idea that Mr Musk came from wealth.
He also called Mr Reich “suicidally boring”.
Insider reported in 2018 that Mr Musk’s father Errol Musk owned an emerald mine in Zambia.
“He didn’t own an emerald mine & I worked my way through college, ending up ~$100k in student debt,” Mr Musk tweeted on 28 December 2019.
In March last year, Mr Musk tweeted that the article was “false”, and that “I arrived by myself in Canada in ‘89 with ~CA$2500”, that he “started [ his first] company with no funding & just one computer I built – There’s no evidence whatsoever of an ‘emerald mine’”.
“My father & his extended family have been dependent on financial support from my brother & me for over 20 years,” he added.