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In A Pandemic, Should We Be Cheering For Elon Musk?

Elon Musk has become the world’s richest person, as his net worth crossed $185bn (£136bn).

The Tesla and SpaceX entrepreneur was pushed into the top slot after Tesla’s share price increased on Thursday.

Mr Musk’s electric car company Tesla has surged in value this year, and hit a market value of $700bn (£516bn) for the first time on Wednesday.

That makes the car company worth more than Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, GM and Ford combined

The 49-year-old entrepreneur’s net worth hit $186bn (£136bn) at 10.15am in New York on Wednesday, making him $1.5bn richer than Bezos, who had held the top spot since October 2017.

Musk responded to the news of his status as the world’s richest person with tweets stating “how strange” and “well, back to work …”

Musk said he intended to use half of his fortune to “help problems on Earth” and “half to help establish a self-sustaining city on Mars to ensure continuation of life (of all species) in case Earth gets hit by a meteor like the dinosaurs or WW3 happens & we destroy ourselves”.

In a series of tweets that the South African-born billionaire pinned to the top of his timeline, Musk said the reason why he wants lots of money was “not what you think”. He said he had “very little time for recreation” and doesn’t have “vacation homes or yachts or anything like that”.

It’s an incredible achievement that has left a sour taste in some mouths of some people.

Becoming the world’s richest man isn’t an easy feat, typically speaking billionaires amass their fortune by providing a product or service that consumers wanted or needed. Now I am not going dabble into the “capitalism is built on exploitation” or “your net worth isn’t cash in the bank” conversation. However, and hear me out on this one:

I have no problem with Elon Musk’s wealth increase during the pandemic is fair (from a business standpoint).

If we are being honest, we have come to rely on the products and services owned by current billionaires. We relied on Amazon for their delivery services, Netflix to pass time and Zoom to facilitate remote learning (or meetings). To me it is no surprise that the wealth of billionaires has increased during the pandemic especially when the compensation pay plan of many founders and Chief Executives are tied with the performance of the company they are heading.

Given the circumstances we find ourselves in, I do understand how the widening of the wealth gap doesn’t sit well with people. When unemployment is at an all-time high, I can see how the increasing success of billionaires rubs salt in the wounds of those suffering at this unprecedented time.

Elon Musk was on the verge of personal and business bankruptcy from 2017 to 2019. A Securities Fraud settlement meant he had to step down as CEO of Tesla in 2018. He forwent salaries, worked on the production lines and slept in the factory for half a year. He put up his billions in net worth from Zip2 and PayPal as collateral for Tesla bailouts to keep the company afloat. He took immense financial risks, and admitted to being a “month from bankruptcy” for 2 years. He fought off armies of the richest short sellers in the world. He tied all future compensation to certain company milestones. And now is the richest man on earth, taking “humanity to Mars in 10 years with SpaceX.”

Besides many of his low-level employees now becoming millionaires from their stock compensation. You want to talk about quality of life? So does Elon. The difference is instead of throwing money at the problem like politicians do without much success – if not harming recipients more –  he is trying to come up with a sustainable solution.

He works 100-hour weeks. He professes to have little interest in the material trappings of wealth, instead seeks to provide people with the best products and working toward making humanity an interplanetary species. While government’s have been going to Climate Meetings for nearly 50 years now, with little to show for it. He is putting every effort to salvage what little time we have left to fast track our transition to sustainable energy.

He conceived and patented Hyperloop and gave it away so the public can get develop it into a feasible mode of transport. He did the same with Tesla’s Electric Vehicle technology.

His launch of 830 Starlink satellites aimed to provide affordable internet to every corner of the globe. Politicians worldwide have promised this many times over. He did it. He has disrupted industries from online banking to transportation, automotive, aerospace and AI. He single-handedly privatised Space, taking the entire launching monopoly NASA had to use from Russia.

He is putting every ounce of his personal resources to give humanity a second chance if the earth goes wrong and before the space debris clogs our atmosphere for good. Above all, he has inspired a whole generation to see problems with a different perspective and come up with innovative solutions to tackle the most concerning problems faced by society. When he is dead and gone, his visions will be carried on by those who believed in his ideals.

Yes, Musk gets richer while his customers get larger than expected product. It is a win-win situation for humankind. Elon Musk judges his success by problems solved, not how much money he made in his lifetime.

If this person is not deserving of praise and leaving to his own devices, then who is?

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Richard Bolton was born in the UK and is a Manchester University PPE graduate. He is a financial planner. Areas of intrigue include global political affairs, culture and nascent technologies. In his spare time, Richard is a keen sportsman and investor.

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Elijah is a student at the University of Manchester studying a masters in Innovation Management. Areas of intrigue include community building and emerging technologies. Elijah is also the founder of arkisites, a non-profit organisation dedicated to bridging the access gap between the tech sector and minority ethnic communities

Richard Bolton and Elijah Ajuwon

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