Tuesday, November 09, 2021

World Food Program calls Elon Musk's bluff

Elon Musk, the richest man on earth, has a big one-off tax bill coming up. So, he thought he's ask his 63 million Twitter followers if they thought it was a good idea for him to sell 10% of his Tesla shares in order to pay it. He said he would abide by their decision. That's a weird thing to do, right? But Mr. Musk is a weird man, and this is far from the weirdest thing he has done.

Anyway, the point of the current story is that one of his Twitter followers, David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Program (WFP), responded to Musk's weirdness by suggesting that, while he was liquidating a few billion dollars of his share options, why didn't he also eradicate poverty in some old the world's poorest regions by donating $6 billion to the WFP, which could feed 42 million of the world's poorest for a year. This would represent a mere 2% of Musk's personal wealth.

Musk was intrigued, but skeptical of Mr. Beasley's figures, and responded: "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". Of course, Mr. Beasley had this information right there to hand - 42 million people ( the number of people in Integrated Food Security Phase Classifications 4 and 5, in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, Madagascar and Democratic Republic of Congo) times the cost of supplying one meal per day (US$0.43, for the record - you try making a meal for 43c!) times 365 days in a year. It's all on the WFP website.

The ball, then, is squarely back in Elon Musk's court and, thus far, he has gone very quiet. Is he a man of his word, or just a weirdo who spouts random things he thinks are amusing? Will be become one of the world's biggest philanthropists overnight? If so, will he be doing it for the right reasons? Will David Beasley become known as the word's best bluff-caller? Will this whole very public episode encourage others to donate large amounts of spare money to eradicating world poverty?

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