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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Troll Philanthropy is the latest invention from Elon Musk

The world’s wealthiest individuals are customarily generous with a portion of their large fortunes to charitable causes. That, at the very least, is the contract and the expectation.

In addition to donating money to food banks and homeless families, Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person until very recently, has pledged $10 billion of his fortune to combat climate change. Bezos gained his fortune via the online shop Amazon.

Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest person, has adopted a somewhat different approach. In one occasion, Musk engaged in a public Twitter scuffle with the head of the Global Food Programme, saying, “If WFP can explain on this Twitter thread precisely how $6B would cure world hunger, I will sell Tesla shares right now and do it.”

In addition, there was an online poll asking if he should sell 10 percent of his Tesla stock in order to pay taxes on at least a portion of his fortune, as most individuals do without first conducting a survey. And, of course, there is the unwavering belief that his moneymaking endeavours, which include controlling both the electric automaker Tesla and the rocket business SpaceX, are already benefiting humanity, which is a nice touch, thanks very much.

The majority of rich individuals behave in the opposite manner. In order to improve their public image or divert public attention away from the corporate methods that brought them their vast riches in the first place, they turn to charity.

Due to the fact that so much money is concentrated in their hands and that so little of it is taxed under present regulations, it is more important than ever to understand when, how, and why the ultrarich choose to give away their fortunes. Society is now trapped in a state of reliance on voluntary contributions from those who have the most resources available to them.

There are many other types of contributors, such as Mr. Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, who has dedicated her billions to promoting diversity and fairness in the workplace. Among them are the self-described “effective altruists,” such as Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, and his wife, Cari Tuna, who are members of a movement that is seeking for evidence-based techniques to identify charities where their money would do the most benefit. And then there are the traditionalists, such as Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, who have established foundations to manage their financial resources.

Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos are, for the time being, the wealthiest people in the United States, with net worths of $268 billion and $202 billion, respectively. This has heightened the disparities between their approaches to giving back.

People who need Mr. Musk’s gifts, such as David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, are not deterred from asking his assistance because of Mr. Musk’s unconventional approach to giving. In order to impose some pressure on him and shape his somewhat inchoate charitable interests, Mr. Soskis said that “we must engage him, and embrace some of that trolling,” in order to attempt to apply some pressure and shape his somewhat inchoate philanthropic priorities.

The idea that wealthy individuals have a moral responsibility to donate is a centuries-old concept. Mr. Soskis, a historian of charity, points out that affluent residents in ancient Rome competed with one another in terms of funding public baths and theatres, among other things. The inscriptions on the structures might be considered a type of early donor list because of their location.

The notion that the wealthiest might require charitable assistance to improve their public image is also a long-standing one, one that was brought home during the Gilded Age by railroad magnate William Henry Vanderbilt’s infamous 1882 outburst, “The public be damned!” that followed him until his death.

Technocratic organisations that establish high standards for contributions and impose severe restrictions on how their funds may be used are characterised as controlling and hierarchical in their behaviour. In contrast, broad operational assistance without specific direction on how the money should be used has recently been hailed as the most effective way by many.

According to Mr. Musk, sending humans to Mars via SpaceX is a significant contribution. He has also written and talked with acerbity about what he labels “anti-billionaire BS,” such as initiatives to target billionaires with tax increases.

MacKenzie Scott’s most recent letter regarding her charitable giving had a slew of philosophical insights that most billionaires do not disclose on a regular basis. However, she left out the specifics that everyone had been waiting for — such as how many billions of dollars were distributed to which organisations. Instead, she advised people to avoid paying attention to billionaires and instead focus on what they can give back.

Her decision to write the whole thing without using a single dollar symbol was a winking gesture to everyone who was waiting for the current cash figure. This is a classic troll manoeuvre.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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