The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, has gotten into a Twitter spat with the United Nations World Food Programme over whether or not he could solve world hunger.
This was a statement made by UN WFP Director David Beasley and reported by CNN.
Technically Beasley didn’t really say that. What he said was that there is a current “perfect storm” brewing across the developing world of COVID, droughts and conflict that could “literally” kill 42 million people unless the UN WFP gets the $6 billion in funding it needs to help these people.
Beasley meant it as a one time solution to this specific problem, directly calling on Elon Musk and Amazon CEO, and fellow space cowboy, Jeff Bezos, to step in. CNN were later forced to correct their headline, as it suggested that Musk and Bezos could solve world hunger forever with just a fraction of their wealth.
Musk, who loves to weigh in on social media, responded to the claims by asking the WFP to explain exactly how $6 billion would solve world hunger, promising to sell Tesla stock right now to pay for it if they could.
But it must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 31, 2021
Beasly jumped in to respond to Musk, saying that the headline was wrong but that $6 billion would “prevent geopolitical instability, mass migration and save 42 million people on the brink of starvation”
Practically begging the man, Beasley went on to say that he could be on the next flight to see Musk and that Musk could throw him out if he didn’t like what he had to say.
Musk hit back by telling Beasley to publish his “current and proposed spending so people can see exactly money goes” before following up with “sunlight is a wonderful thing”.
Although Beasley offered to meet him once again, telling him he would bring the financial documents with him, Musk has yet to respond.
It’s was a callous and “half-assed” response to a serious plea for help, according to MSNBC.
“The WFP’s $6 billion ask is nothing to the richest person on Earth — but he’s still going to be a jerk about it,” they write.
So, although it looks unlikely that Musk will lift a finger to stop 42 million people from dying, it’s worth examining whether or not his money could indeed solve world hunger.
Could Elon Musk End World Hunger?
Musk has seen his wealth increase dramatically during the pandemic, along with much of the global elite, and is currently worth more than $300 billion. That’s more than the GDP of the vast majority of the nations on Earth. If Musk was a country, he would be the 44th wealthiest nation on the planet by GDP.
Yet despite that, he has been bitching about Democrat plans in the US to tax the country’s 700 billionaires through a restructuring of the tax system that would require taxes to be paid on unrealised gains in share prices and investments.
Musk, like fellow supervillain Bezos, doesn’t actually sit on an ever increasing mountain of gold high up in a cave. Instead, his wealth is generated through share price increases in the companies he owns. As they go up, so does his wealth.
However, since he rarely, if ever, sells any of this stock, the money is not actually accessible. Indeed, it would probably vanish if he tried to move too much of it at once and spook investors. Instead, billionaires like Musk pay themselves salaries of as little as $1 while taking out long term loans with tiny interest rates to use as spending money as these aren’t actually considered income. No income means no income tax, and Musk paid precisely nothing on his then $250 billion in wealth in 2018, wealth that has now ballooned to more than $311 billion.
So, how much of that would we need in order to solve world hunger?
It depends on your definition of solve. There are currently 821 million people who are routinely hungry in the world, according to World Vision.
You could probably buy all of those people a meal for less than $1 billion and “solve” world hunger — for a few hours.
However, people are not hungry because they’ve skipped lunch, they’re hungry because of systemic issues that create a lack of access to food that go well beyond simply paying for more of it. In fact, there is already more than enough food for everyone on the planet.
Drought, conflict, poor harvest, disease, corruption, and a lack of good governance and strategic planning from many of the nations struggling with food poverty all play a role. These are complex and multi-dimensional problems that require years of investment, oversight, and regulation to fix.
Practically though, money is a key factor, and you definitely can spend your way out of it if you’ve got enough. Estimates for how much world hunger would cost to end range from $7 billion to $330 billion but it wouldn’t be possible to fix many of the structural issues overnight.
It’s a lot for one individual to pay for, although technically Musk probably could single handedly end world hunger if he committed to spend $30 billion each year. At the rate that his wealth is increasing, he probably wouldn’t even lose money and he certainly wouldn’t notice the loss.
Thankfully though we don’t need to rely on the generosity of the chronically rich to fix world hunger. Already there are government plans in place to end world hunger through programmes like the WFP which nations already spend billions on each year.
However, that money would need to be doubled if we are to fix world hunger by 2030, according to some estimates.
If only there was someone with billions of spare dollars lying around to contribute to a worthy cause?
Unfortunately, billionaires like Musk are inherently distrustful of big government and believe that private enterprise would be a better way to organise society than publicly funded organisations aimed at benevolent causes that they see as ‘wasteful’.
It’s a sceptical, cynical worldview championed by libertarians and ardent capitalists who believe that only entrepreneurialism from hard-working business people like themselves can solve the world’s problems. And yet, so far, it hasn’t.
This is what Musk was referring to in his online back and forth with Beasley. What he was asking for was less a solid financial plan to convince him to invest but a detailed lay out of where the UN spends their funds.
It’s unlikely we’ll see Musk or any of the world’s ultra rich give money to huge global regulatory bodies like the UN to fix global problems like world huger even though they clearly could. Unless those bodies can guarantee all the credit will be given to the benevolent billionaires.
Somehow that seems unlikely.