Oh Elon. You’ve done it again.
When Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, first bought a 9.2% stake in Twitter earlier this month, it was announced as a “passive” investment. Soon after, it was announced he was to take a place on the board. The next twist was that the board place was no longer an option – so back to passive I guess?
Of course, Elon is never one to fade silently into the background. His next move wasn’t just to come back for the board seat – it was for the whole enchilada. Tweeting his offer of $54.20 per share (of course there was a 420 in there, this is Elon), Twitter soon invoked a poison pill defence – kicking in a limited duration shareholder rights plan. In essence, this would allow other shareholders to purchase additional shares at a discount should one investor acquire more than 15% of the company.
Long story short, as I’m sure you’re all aware by now, it ended up being unanimously approved by the Twitter board, and Elon got his new toy. What this means for free speech is a debate that will rage on – and, apparently, the reason Elon wanted to buy the platform in the first place (or so he claims), but that is not what I want to focus on here.
Elon Musk Could Have Done —- With $44 Billion, But Instead He Bought Twitter
I want to tackle the criticism of Elon that argues he chose to put his ego and greed above the greater good of humanity.
So, did Elon actually choose to privatise Twitter over world hunger? Well, according to the World Health Organization, 811 million people were undernourished in 2020. Sadly, that’s over a tenth of the world’s population.
I don’t think you need an in-depth statistical model to tell you that $44 billion can fix that problem. I mean, the US government flooded the economy with $5 trillion via the pandemic stimulus bills. Because the numbers are challenging to visualise here, that’s 114 times more than what Musk paid for Twitter. You think there’s no hunger in the US?
It’s a naïve and populous statement to make, claiming that the amount Musk spent could just wipe away world hunger. It’s also objectively incorrect.
Haven’t We Had This Conversation Before?
In October 2021, the director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, called out Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk specifically, telling them to “step up” and that “$6 billion (would) help 42 million people that are literally going to die if we don’t reach them. It’s not complicated”.
The above was a misleading headline; Beasley was merely arguing that $6 billion could help, not solve world hunger. But this SEC filing from Musk, a few days after Beasley published a plan to tackle world hunger in response to Musk’s tweet, shows the billionaire donated Tesla stock (worth approximately $5.7 billion at the time) to an unspecified charity. Musk never revealed where it went, nor did the WFP announce they had received a donation of that size.
But regardless of where the donation went, Elon gets a hard time from many, and this latest episode of scrutinising what he does with his money is just the latest example. I would counter that Musk is doing more for humanity than most billionaires. He is actively trying to put humans on Mars, because “we don’t want to be one of those single-planet species; we want to be a multi-planet species”.
He is also CEO of Tesla, where he often receives criticism for his financial-related tweets. Yes, they may be a bit childish at times, but the bottom line is that he is working on creating electric cars, helping to solve one of the biggest problems we currently face: climate change. Yet, it feels like most of the rhetoric around Tesla is that it is overpriced, or Musk doesn’t pay enough taxes, or it’s a total bubble. Even Joe Biden gives Musk a hard time, favouring Ford, GM and other competitors.
On the other hand, we have billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, who aren’t criticised half as much as Musk is. I don’t really care if Musk tweets out “Doge to the moon” every now and then; why are people focusing on those antics when other billionaires are doing nothing to help the world? The New York Times wrote in 2017 that Bezos’ charitable history has “remained largely a mystery”, yet again – Musk gets the brunt of the criticism.
Besides, who are we to slate Musk for not spending his money like we think he should? Are his critics the same people advocating for lower taxes, cutting healthcare or social welfare payments instead? It’s a slippery slope to walk on, criticising others for how they spend their money, and you would want to make sure your closet is clean of any skeletons before you do so.
But the bottom line is that I genuinely believe Musk is doing more for humanity than almost any other billionaire. His innovative companies – pursuing space travel, creating electric cars, alternative public transport systems, chips to simulate brain activity – are issues on an astonishing scale. Whether you agree or not, buying Twitteris to protect what he believes is our right to free speech. And sure, it makes me a little uncomfortable to have all that power privatised, but Musk believes in these things and puts his money where his mouth is.
Now tell me, just because he likes to joke around on your Twitter feed, does that mean he deserves to be lambasted for every cent he spends, when other billionaires get a free pass?
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