PayPal co-founder and gem heir Elon Musk made waves Monday when Twitter accepted his offer to buy the social media company for $44 billion and take it private in the name of “freedom of speech.”
Of the 2,668 billionaires in the world, he is the billionaire with an estimated $242.4 billion as of Wednesday morning, according to Forbes. The next best rich man is a little way behind him, although he still holds an unimaginable sum that could probably solve at least some of humanity’s woes on a global scale; Jeff Bezos has around $165.1 billion at his disposal.
Even with that kind of obscene wealth, not everyone thought Musk could pull off his hostile takeover. Like other mega-billionaires, much of his money takes the form of illiquid stocks. His unsolicited offer was on shaky ground just a week ago, until he revealed he’d secured loans from banks like Morgan Stanley.
It seems that the would-be space explorer can muster the will, if he chooses, to spend vast sums of his money on what he sees as benefiting society: relaxing the rules on what people can post on Twitter.
But Musk has made many offers of help, and arguably some that are actually more helpful. As he celebrates the deal that crowns him as Twitter’s new lord and savior, here’s a look at some of the other promises that haven’t taken place in the same way.
Manufacturing ventilators during the COVID-19 crisis
In the scary early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Musk promised to ship more than 1,000 ventilators to hospitals across the country and said Tesla would start manufacturing them.
But CNN reporters noted that several hospitals received supplies from Musk but no ventilators. Instead, California hospitals were given two-stage positive airway pressure machines, which are typically used for people with sleep apnea. The machines have limited use to treat COVID-19. (Nonetheless, the hospitals contacted by CNN thanked them for the gifts.)
Donate half of his money to charity
A decade ago, Musk signed the Giving Pledge, pledging along with billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to donate at least 50% of his money to charity.
At 50, Musk is relatively young, and the Giving Pledge doesn’t set a timeline for when or how billionaires will lose their fortunes. But as of January 2021, Musk had only given away about 0.05% of his net worth, according to Vox. According to Fortune, he earmarked a large chunk of $5.7 billion in Tesla stock for unnamed charities at the end of 2021, which pointed to the huge tax break it would bring. But it’s unclear if he actually gave away any of that money.
When the United Nations responded to Musk’s request in November to outline a plan to end world hunger, the price tag was $6.6 billion — a little close to the intended amount. But it’s still unclear what Musk plans to do with that money.
He seems to have a bigger plan. musk tweeted in 2018 that he would sell smaller amounts of Tesla stock “every few years” but save “larger expenses” for 20 years when Tesla is in a “stable state.” He will use what he has accumulated so far to “make life multiplanetary,” splitting his donations equally between Earth and Mars, where he says he would like to be buried.
Critics say that while a trip to Mars may sound exciting, it distracts from the pressing problems Earth is facing due to climate change.
The rescue of this Thai soccer team
In 2018, Musk infamously offered to help a team of 12 boys in Thailand trapped with their trainer in a cave only accessible via an underwater passage. Musk’s idea was to build a miniature submarine, which he and his team actually fabricated and took to Thailand for the rescue operation.
However, he became angry when the people trying to save the boys rejected his machine. Rescue chief Narongsak Osatanakorn praised the submarine as “good and refined” but said it “is not practical for this mission”. Musk countered by questioning Osatanakorn’s expertise. When a British diver said a few days later that Musk’s idea was nothing more than “a PR stunt” with “no prospect of work,” Musk called the man a “pedo,” which eventually led to a libel lawsuit. (Musk won.)
Musk tweeted that he left the sub in Thailand.
Fixing the water of the city of Flint
“Please take this as a commitment that I will fund the water cleanup of any home in Flint with water contamination levels above FDA levels,” Musk tweeted in 2018 after the Thailand debacle. “No kidding,” he added.
In 2014, the nation was shocked to learn that the city of Michigan, mostly populated by black people, had its drinking water poisoned with lead after officials switched to a new water supply to save money.
Mari Copeny, the young activist nicknamed Little Miss Flint who raised awareness of her city’s water crisis, criticized Musk’s Twitter purchase:
(Copeny last year raised about $500,000 for a project that aims to send water filters to homes across the country.)
Musk kept that promise — sort of. The billionaire’s foundation spent half a million dollars to install clean water fountains in 12 Flint public school buildings. The fountains were unveiled in February this year after a delay caused by the pandemic.