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Can two per cent of Elon Musk’s wealth solve world hunger?

By Trevor Stepp
web posted December 20, 2021

Recently, David Beasley, the Executive Director for the UN World Food Programme, made a very interesting claim that became an article on CNN’s website. The title of this article was, “two per cent of Elon Musk's wealth could help solve world hunger, says director of UN food scarcity organization.” I came across this article and the ensuing discussion when I saw a Twitter post about it. Elon Musk actually replied to the post, saying, “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.” David Beasley replied with: “Headline not accurate. $6B will not solve world hunger, but it will prevent geopolitical instability, mass migration and save 42 million people on the brink of starvation. An unprecedented crisis and a perfect storm due to COVID /conflict/climate crises.” While I want to mostly focus on the CNN headline, there are a few things that struck me when I read Beasley’s response.

David Beasley’s response to Musk, where he said “Headline not accurate. $6B will not solve world hunger, but it will prevent geopolitical instability, mass migration and save 42 million people on the brink of starvation. An unprecedented crisis and a perfect storm due to Covid/conflict/climate crises” stood out to me. Beasley is telling Musk that two per cent of his wealth (6 billion dollars) would be able to feed and save 42 million people. I don’t know if this is a simple oversight, or if Beasley actually doesn’t realize this, but Musk doesn’t have $6 billion just sitting around, available to be used. I am quite sure that most of Musk’s wealth is in stocks. Musk could definitely sell $6 billion in stocks if he wanted (I think he sold $5.7 billion last week), but it affects the market. 

The CNN headline is definitely misleading and definitely not true. The headline claims that $6 billion (two per cent of Musk’s wealth) could help solve world hunger. There is a saying that sheds some light on this: “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.” Simply using money to provide food for millions of people will not work (which was David Beasley’s plan) - money is not infinite. The 6 billion dollars may be able to provide for people and stave off hunger, but eventually that money is used up. An increasing growth rate of Per Capita GDP will permanently increase living conditions, hunger, etc. In order to bring about lasting change, it is important to improve human capital (education, for example) and technology. If resources and money were devoted towards educating the population and giving them the resources needed to succeed and grow the economy, perhaps real change could begin. 

One more problem with the UN donating Elon Musk’s money is the question of how much would actually reach the poor. While this seems like a cynical question, it seems a bit idealistic to believe that all the money would reach those it was meant for. I haven’t done enough research to truly form an opinion, but I have seen many claims that the UN had large sums of money to combat world hunger in the past. Many people say that the UN barely used any of the money to actually feed the poor and to fight poverty.

CNN’s headline is misleading and definitely not true. The only way to improve living conditions and hunger is by investing in the people - creating better education for more people - and by having technological progress, which is the main driver behind economic growth. ESR

This is Trevor Stepp’s first contribution to Enter Stage Right. (c) 2021 Trevor Stepp

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