Elon Musk, the world’s richest man has agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion. That makes this a good time to revisit last year’s tweets between Musk and David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Beasley implores billionaires to dig deep into their pockets (which are very deep indeed) to help reduce world hunger. Beasley called out Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk by name during his interview with Becky Anderson of CNN’s Connect the World on October 26, 2022. Beasley said he was making a “one-time” appeal for $6 billion which would save the lives of 42 million people in 43 nations in Africa, the Middle East, and Central America who otherwise would starve to death. Beasley said that six billion dollars is what Musk made in a single day from appreciation of his Tesla stock. Six billion dollars is a huge sum, but only 2% of Musk’s $300 billion fortune.
Beasley heard from Musk a few days later. On October 31, 2021, Musk tweeted to Beasley that “if WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it.”
True to his word, Musk sold $4 billion of his Tesla stock on April 26 and 27. Oddly, the proceeds went towards Twitter’s $44 billion purchase price rather than charity. This is puzzling. Musk has a huge heart for the poor; Musk was even seen on The Big Bang Theory volunteering at a food kitchen on Thanksgiving.
Still, just how generous is Musk? Musk’s charitable contributions seem large, but are a tiny fraction of his overall worth. An opinion column in the April 26, 2021 Los Angeles Times was headlined: “Elon Musk Is Giving $150 Million to Charity. What a Cheapskate.” The $150 million Musk donated to various charitable causes during the first four months of 2021 was just “eight-hundredths of a percent” of Musk’s total worth.
Did Musk made good his promise to give $6 billion to WFP? Search me. Fortune notes that Musk donated $5.7 billion in Tesla shares to charity a few weeks after his October 31 tweet. Fortune, however, was unable to identify the recipient(s). In his defense, Musk says that he prefers to give to charity anonymously.
Musk said he would pay $11 billion in federal income tax this year. It’s about time. A ProPublica investigation found that Musk paid no federal income tax in 2018 and only $455 million between 2014 and 2018. (Figures are unavailable for 2020 and 2019.) As for Tesla, CNN reported in February that the electric car maker would pay nothing in corporate income tax for 2021 after applying past losses to Tesla’s current income. All of this is permitted by the Internal Revenue Code which tilts heavily in wealthy taxpayers’ favor. Yet Musk could not have amassed his fortune without generous government tax incentives at the state and federal level.
In her interview with David Beasley, Becky Anderson points out that “US billionaires alone have gotten over a trillion dollars richer during the pandemic.” The American bargain, generally unstated, is that inequalities of wealth are justifiable because capitalism makes everyone better off. But the super-rich are pulling farther and farther ahead of the rest of us. Productivity soars, but incomes stagnate. We now have the first generation who are not better off than their parents. How long will it be before Americans wake up and ask: is there a system that better serves human needs and is more equitable than capitalism?
An Absolute Phony
Musk is a frenetic tweeter, bouncing manically between political statements, juvenile humor, and announcements about his companies Tesla and SpaceX. Musk describes himself as a “free speech absolutist” and pledges that Twitter under his ownership will be devoted to free speech.
Musk tweeted on April 25 that “I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means.” Let’s see how long this article stays on Twitter.
The “free speech absolutist” has repeatedly gone after his critics. Bloomberg reports that in 2021, Tesla “complained to the [Chinese] government over what it sees as unwarranted attacks on social media, and asked Beijing to use its censorship powers to block some of the posts.”
Musk has run afoul of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for trying to silence Tesla employees who were trying to unionize. A 2018 tweet implied that Tesla employees who joined the United Auto Workers would lose their stock options. An NLRB administrative law judge ruled that Musk’s implied threat violated U.S. labor law. Musk is appealing the ruling, arguing that his tweet is Constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment. Employers apparently have a Constitutional right to intimidate their employees.
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Conservatives are elated at Musk taking the reins at Twitter. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson tweeted: “We’re back.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Sean Hannity that Elon Musk buying Twitter is “the most important development for free speech in decades.”
Twitter, you see, discriminates against conservatives. At least, conservatives think it does. We can define a conservative as a person who speaks to millions of people on Fox News, yet howls that he or she is being silenced. The truth is that Twitter’s algorithms amplify conservative voices much more than those that are left of center. Twitter itself admitted as much in a recent report prepared by the site.
Musk is coy about his politics, but the evidence suggests that Musk is a man of the Right. In April, Musk tweeted that “The far left hates everyone, themselves included!” (Uh, no.) Musk followed with a less convincing tweetthat “But I’m no fan of the far right either.” Are you sure of that, Elon? On April 28, Musk tweeted a diagram he had created that suggests he believes that the Republicans’ position on the political spectrum has remained fixed over the years. Democrats, however, have moved far to the left, leaving behind Musk, who says he voted for Obama. Musk’s message is that he isn’t right-wing; he only looks right-wing because the Democrats have veered so far left.
I’ll continue once you stop laughing.
Progressives fear that Musk will return Twitter to its early Wild West, anything-goes days leading up to the 2016 election. Twitter used to be a gigantic, rules-free Romper Room for the alt-right, White nationalists, Nazis, Holocaust deniers, Putin-philes, men’s rights activists, and for all I know, necrophiliacs. They’re not all gone, but Twitter is a more civilized place than it was.
Musk could restore the accounts of far Right bottom-dwellers who are currently banned from Twitter. They include Trump himself (who says he is not returning to Twitter); Trump’s éminence grise Steve Bannon, who was kicked off Twitter after he appeared to call for the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray; political fixer and convicted felon Roger Stone; Infowars’ Alex Jones who accused the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting of being “crisis actors”; General Michael Flynn, briefly Trump’s first national security adviser, who proposed martial law to keep Trump in office; and self-described “internet supervillain” Milo Yiannopoulos, whose career imploded after videos surfaced of Yiannopoulos appearing to defend pedophilia. These people would be in Arkham Asylum if they lived in Gotham City.
There are plenty more, but you get the idea. Depending entirely on Elon Musk’s whim we could be hearing from these people again on Twitter very soon.
Musk’s purchase has to be approved by Twitter shareholders and the Federal Trade Commission. Musk could also back out of the deal; although, if he does, Musk will be liable for a $1 billion penalty. Twitter’s future remains uncertain.
 Six billion dollars is not even Musk’s most impressive one-day payday. Musk made $25 billion on March 9, 2021 and $19 billion on March 28, 2022. On October 25, 2021, Musk made an eye-popping $36.2 billion, the largest single day increase Bloomberg has ever reported.
 Musk takes trouble to cultivate a cuddly public image. Musk also hosted the May 9, 2021 Saturday Night Live. In one sketch, Musk plays a cowboy in the Old West who offers dopey suggestions on how to confront a gang of dangerous outlaws.