Just Some Things Elon Musk Said He’d Do With His Money Before He Bought Twitter
PayPal co-founder and gemstone heir Elon Musk made waves on Monday when Twitter accepted his offer to buy the social media company for $44 billion and take it private in the name of “free speech.”
Of the world’s 2,668 billionaires, he is the billionairiest, with an estimated $242.4 billion as of Wednesday morning, according to Forbes. The next closest rich person is somewhat far behind him, although still in possession of an unimaginable sum that could probably solve at least some of mankind’s ailments on a global scale; Jeff Bezos has around $165.1 billion.
Even with that kind of obscene wealth, not everyone thought Musk would be able to pull off his hostile takeover. Like other megabillionaires, a lot of his money takes the form of illiquid stock. His unsolicited offer was on somewhat shaky ground just a week ago, until he revealed that he’d secured loans from banks including Morgan Stanley.
It appears that, when he wants to, the wannabe space explorer can summon the will to spend vast amounts of his money on what he perceives to be a benefit to society: loosening the rules on what people can post to Twitter.
But Musk has made many offers of help, and arguably some that are actually more, well, helpful. While he celebrates the deal that crowns him Twitter’s new lord and savior, here is a look at some of those other promises that haven’t panned out the same way.
Producing ventilators during the COVID-19 crisis
In the frightening early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Musk promised to ship more than 1,000 ventilators to hospitals around the country, saying that Tesla would start making them.
But CNN reporters found that while several hospitals did receive shipments from Musk, they did not get ventilators. Instead, hospitals in California were sent bi-level positive airway pressure machines, usually used for people with sleep apnea. The machines have limited use in treating COVID-19. (Regardless, the hospitals contacted by CNN expressed gratitude for the gifts.)
Donating half his money to charity
A decade ago, Musk signed the Giving Pledge, joining billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in promising to donate at least 50% of his money to charity.
At age 50, Musk is relatively young, and the Giving Pledge does not put a timeline on when or how billionaires shed their wealth. But as of January 2021, Musk had given away only about 0.05% of his net worth, according to Vox. He earmarked a large chunk of Tesla stock, $5.7 billion worth, for unnamed charities in late 2021, according to Fortune, which pointed out the huge tax break that comes attached. But it’s unclear whether he has actually given any of that money away.
In November, when the United Nations responded to Musk’s challenge to outline a plan for combating world hunger, the price tag came to $6.6 billion ― somewhat close to the earmarked amount. But it’s still unclear what Musk means to do with that money.
He appears to have a larger plan. Musk tweeted in 2018 that he would sell smaller amounts of Tesla stock “every few years” but save “major disbursements” for 20 years down the line, when Tesla is in a “steady state.” He’ll use what he accumulates by then to “make life multiplanetary,” splitting his donations equally between Earth and Mars, where he said he’d like to be buried.
Critics say that while going to Mars might sound exciting, it distracts from the urgent problems facing the Earth due to climate change.
Rescuing that Thai soccer team
In 2018, Musk infamously offered to help rescue a team of 12 boys in Thailand who had become trapped with their coach in a cave only accessible by underwater passageway. Musk’s idea was to build a miniature submarine, which he and his team actually fabricated and brought to the rescue operation in Thailand.
He got angry, however, when the people trying to save the boys declined his machine. The rescue chief, Narongsak Osatanakorn, praised the sub as “good and sophisticated,” but said that “it’s not practical for this mission.” Musk snapped back by casting doubt on Osatanakorn’s expertise. A few days later, when a British diver said Musk’s idea was nothing more than “a PR stunt” with “no chance of working,” Musk called the man a “pedo,” eventually leading to a defamation lawsuit. (Musk won.)
Musk tweeted that he had left the submarine in Thailand.
Fixing the city of Flint’s water
“Please consider this a commitment that I will fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels,” Musk tweeted in 2018, after the Thailand debacle. “No kidding,” he added.
In 2014, the nation was shocked to learn that the drinking water of the Michigan city, largely populated by people of color, was poisoned with lead after officials switched to a new water supply in an effort to save money.
Mari Copeny, the young activist nicknamed Little Miss Flint who drew attention to her city’s water crisis, criticized Musk’s Twitter buy:
(Copeny raised around $500,000 last year for a project that aims to send water filters to homes around the country.)
Musk did follow through on this promise ― sort of. The billionaire’s foundation spent half a million dollars to install clean water fountains throughout 12 public school buildings in Flint. The fountains were unveiled in February of this year, after a delay caused by the pandemic.