Ironically, because no billionaire agrees to it, this phrase has attained the status of indisputable fact. Elon Musk is challenging the truth of this “fact” by actually saying yes, and offering to part ways with (some of) his billions. There is a big “if” to the proposition, and he makes sure it’s very clear.
Last week, CNN ran an interview with the director of United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP), David Beasley. In it, Beasley says it would take “only” $6 billion from the world’s richest men to avoid the impending, catastrophic humanitarian crisis in many areas of the world, which he described as the perfect storm of several other crises, like the international health crisis, mass immigration due to conflict, and natural disasters caused by climate change. Beasley asked the world’s billionaires to step up on a “one-time basis” and do a good deed for a change, or face the prospect of having 42 million people die because they were cheapskates. We’re paraphrasing.
The headline from CNN suggested that 2% of Elon Musk's wealth would put an end to world hunger. As Beasley himself would later explain on social media, it's a stretch because it would not end world hunger but merely address the most pressing issue at hand. But the suggestion was unmistakable: Musk could save millions of people by simply agreeing to give away 2% of his fortune. He wouldn't even lose that much since he would have the other 98% left, which is enough money to last him a gazillion lifetimes.
For more context, after the Hertz deal with Tesla, Musk’s personal net worth skyrocketed to over $300 billion. That’s not “real” money since Musk’s assets are tied in Tesla stock (among others), which means he “makes” and “loses” millions and even billions overnight, depending on the Tesla market valuation. That said, Tesla stock has been on the rise, and he could have some of that money if he sold shares.
He will do just that, he says on Twitter: he will become the first billionaire to do as he's asked and give his money away. So if WFP needs $6 billion to save 42 million people, Musk will sell his Tesla shares and hand the money over to them. But, of course, there is a condition: WFP needs to be fully transparent about how it's spending that money.
“If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it,” Musk wrote. “But it must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.”
He also linked to a very troubling 2015 report claiming that UN officers deployed in the Central African Republic were withholding food from the very people it was destined for, soliciting favors in exchange. That’s the mild version of it. Perhaps even worse is the claim in the same report that UN and UNICEF officials knew about the abuses and never did anything in terms of punishing those responsible or aiding the victims.
As noted above, Beasley himself responded to Musk as soon as the discussion heated up on social media. First off, a $6 billion donation would only address the current issue and not solve the problem of world hunger. Second, Beasley doesn't promise transparency into how the WFP will spend the money, but he invites Musk to a conversation that would further elaborate on the issue. Musk replied by asking for full disclosure on spending, and that was the end of it.
As social media is debating whether it’s “right” for a few to accumulate billions while most struggle to make rent and others die of starvation, Musk’s statement does shine light on an important and oftentimes ignored issue: throwing money at problems doesn’t make them disappear. Musk could give away $6 billion (he won’t, but hypothetically, he could), and it would still have been for nothing if the money is mishandled.
Even if he’s trolling, Musk still makes a valid point.
7M people died from hunger in 2020 far more than from Covid.— Sven Henrich (@NorthmanTrader) October 27, 2021
We can send private citizens to space but we let millions starve to death?
We can print trillions of dollars out of thin air but we can't feed everyone?
Is it for lack of trying or not caring? https://t.co/SNHlAGzafN
But it must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 31, 2021
Please publish your current & proposed spending in detail so people can see exactly where money goes.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 31, 2021
Sunlight is a wonderful thing.