A Twitter debate questions the responsibility that Elon Musk has to share his wealth in order to save millions of lives.
Elon Musk and his billionaire friends having their phallic races into space makes me a bit sick. I’m sure the technology is cool and exciting, and yeah, maybe we can start civilisation on Mars when Earth is no longer livable, but I’d really rather we contained our dysfunction to one planet.
Elon Musk is now the richest person on earth. After a CNN headline read: “2% of Elon Musk’s wealth could solve world hunger”, a Twitter exchange between Musk and David Beasley, the United Nations World Food Programs (WFP) chief, debated whether this was true. The fact that a small portion of one man’s wealth could help so many people should make your brain hurt and your heart heavy. As it turns out, 2% of Musk’s wealth ($6bn) won’t solve world hunger, but as David Beasley was keen to reiterate, that figure could still “prevent geopolitical instability, mass migration and save 42 million people on the brink of starvation”.
“The fact that a small portion of one man’s wealth could help so many people should make your brain hurt and your heart heavy.”
Musk, for his part of the exchange, said he would “sell Tesla stock right now” and provide the money if the WFP published their “current & proposed spending in detail so people can see exactly where money goes. Sunlight is a wonderful thing.” Sunlight burns, too.
Also on Twitter, Musk’s engagement with a political cartoon, which portrayed aid funding being diminished before reaching people in need, substantiated Musk’s criticism of the distribution of funding within the WFP, and how little actually reaches those that it claims to help. He’s not the first person to criticise the WFP and broader UN funding structures; massive aid organisations such as the WFP, founded on the back of imperialism and colonisation, have their own problems with corruption and abuse. They continue to line the pockets of western aid workers while providing minimal support and offering little substantial change to the communities they purport to help. Musk’s criticism means he’s unlikely to put his hand in his pocket.
A billionaire’s hesitancy to provide help to people on the brink of starvation is gross, but it highlights how problematic it is that a person or organisation controls the purse strings so tightly on issues that involve human lives. Musk himself has, contradictorily, pointed out how problematic it is for some to line their pockets while leaving the small change for everyone else to fight over.
“…it highlights how problematic it is that a person or organisation controls the purse strings so tightly on issues that involve human lives.”
When Jeff Bezos occupied the throne of richest person in the world, he came under increasing scrutiny and pressure to participate in more philanthropic efforts. This will happen with Musk, too. Displays of philanthropy, though, happen in the context of the years-long arguments about taxing the superrich. Musk himself has been vocal in his opposition to President Biden’s proposed tax reforms.
Instead of paying taxes like the rest of us plebs, the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos of the world prefer to set up their own foundations, or make specific donations. Channelling their money directly, they can performatively help those they decide are in need, while propping up their own choice interests (like colonising Mars). If Musk faces too much backlash, he can readily produce examples of his good deeds, which of course are required in part because he and his pals have avoided paying taxes to help fund essential public services in the first place. If they’d been paying their taxes at a reasonable rate, then the WFP might not need to ask for their direct help because their taxes would’ve grown the pool of public money that the United States (in this case) draws from for their contributions to the WFP.
In the case of this Twitter exchange, focusing too much outrage on Musk not stumping up his share obscures the transgressions and inadequacies of the WFP. On the other hand, it’s also the perfect example of how one person’s small change can be life changing to millions of people. It’s nuanced, yeah, but I guess what it comes down to is the sickening concentration of wealth that’s controlled by a select few – and it’s a select few that seem determined to maintain control. Maybe it’s just because I’m scared of space, but I really don’t think colonising Mars should take priority over so many lives here on Earth. Perhaps we could focus on the problems here before we spread our disasters across the galaxy?