Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, gave only about 2.3% of his immense wealth to charity, according to Forbes. Criticized for spending $44 billion to buy Twitter, Musk counters that his companies are “intended to do good for the future of humanity,” with Tesla advancing electric transportation and SpaceX extending internet service to underserved areas of the world.
You could argue this one forever in a philosophy class, and, if we did, I’d be sitting on the side of the room with those who believe $1 billion in personal wealth is quite enough. I mean, if you can’t party off a billion, you should retire your dancing pumps.
Musk is worth something north of $250 billion, according to Forbes. He could give away a whole lot more, but, for the sake of argument, I’ll stick to the $44 billion he’s spending to own Twitter.
Here’s some greater good Musk could do with that money:
1. Fight world hunger. When he made a $5.7 billion charitable donation last fall, according to a widely reported filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, there was speculation that Musk’s money went to the United Nations’ World Food Programme. The UN, however, said it had not received a check. If saving lives is still of interest to Musk, the time to act is now, as Russia’s war on Ukraine exacerbates problems in parts of the world, including Africa, already suffering from drought and food shortages.
2. Completely fund for a few years the annual operating budgets of several American towns (example: Oakland, Maryland, $3.6 million) and cities (example: Baltimore, $3.2 billion), allowing those municipalities to give their residents significant property tax relief and to spend remaining revenue on overdue capital investments and underfunded services. This would free up funds for homeowners and companies and incentivize people to purchase houses or start businesses in towns or cities that have lost population in recent years.
3. Give a new Tesla Model 3 to 880,000 American families that could not otherwise afford one. With a current price of roughly $50,000, the Model 3 is at the cheapest end of the Tesla lineup of electric cars. But that still puts it out of the reach of millions of families with annual incomes of $50,000 or less, about 38% of all U.S. households. Assuming that Musk gets a “family and friends” discount from the company he owns, we could be looking at a million-car giveaway. That’s a million cars running on batteries, not gasoline, and a significant expansion of Tesla’s brand visibility on U.S. highways.
4. Purchase several weekly or daily newspapers, particularly those serving rural areas, and staff them with additional reporters, editors and photographers to cover local news and their representatives in state legislatures and Congress. Establish them as independent nonprofits or capitalize them for several years, until they build a sustainable subscriber base.
5. Fund through a foundation a massive expansion of arts education in public schools in every state.
6. Subsidize the four-year college tuition of 2022 high school graduates in the least educated states — West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas — and fund the training of others in technology, health care, skilled trades and manufacturing. This would raise the possibility of greater socioeconomic mobility for thousands of young people and position them for jobs that pay so well they’ll be able to afford Teslas.
7. Establish a $44 billion foundation to sustainably augment teacher salaries in the 100 poorest school districts in the country. The goal would be to raise a teacher salary to at least $100,000 a year, a major incentive to attract a new generation of bright, talented men and women to this vital profession.
8. Close the computer gap by purchasing a laptop for any of the remaining 5% to 8% of U.S. households that do not have one.
9. Purchase and renovate up to 1,000 houses in towns and cities, including Baltimore, that have seen high vacancy rates and population loss over the last 10 years. At an average cost of, say, $200,000 per house, that comes to potentially 220,000 houses that could be fixed up and either rented or, better, sold at affordable prices to people trying to become first-time homeowners. According to the Census Bureau, there are plenty of abandoned homes across the country, particularly from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic. There are about 15,000 vacant houses in Baltimore alone. As I have advocated before, a billionaire could make a major donation to Baltimore Community Lending, or a similar federally certified Community Development Financial Institution in any city, and see the money invested wisely in neighborhoods where banks have refused to make loans.
10. Establish a national program to offer a major reward — serious money, not $100 — for the surrender of handguns to scrap. Augmented with a high-profile advertising campaign against violence, the program would begin the major disarmament that the country desperately needs. At $10,000 per gun, the program could potentially purchase every handgun believed to be in private hands. As I pointed out in Wednesday’s column, we have 4.25% of global population and nearly 400 million guns, or about 46% of all guns in private hands in the world. We have to move in another direction — reducing gun ownership, breaking through extreme partisanship, building more community spirit and healthier social conditions — to reduce the violence that tears at American life.
There you go, Elon.