Breakingviews – Musk passes Gates, but not yet in impact

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk speaks at an opening ceremony for Tesla China-made Model Y program in Shanghai, China January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) – Elon Musk is now the second-richest person in the world, at least on paper, but he has a long way to go in catching up to the newly-displaced Bill Gates in impact. The Tesla and SpaceX mogul’s wealth edged past the Microsoft founder’s at just under $128 billion on Monday, according to Bloomberg, thanks to the surge in Tesla’s market capitalization to $500 billion – still far below Microsoft’s $1.6 trillion but equivalent to a dizzying 133 times next year’s forecast earnings according to Refinitiv. Gates, in fairness, has given vast sums to charity and done much to improve humanity’s lot. That’s Musk’s future challenge.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had given away $55 billion at the end of 2019. Covid-19 has made 2020 a busy year for the philanthropic outfit. The Gates Foundation seeded and has given at least $4 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance which has immunized over 800 million children against diseases like polio and measles. And an offshoot of Gavi has raised $2 billion so far to fight the pandemic, which is enough to reserve 1 billion doses of vaccine for poor countries.

While Musk said in 2012 he would eventually give at least half his wealth away, he doesn’t appear to have done much yet. Instead, Musk has been focused on developing electric cars and spacecraft, which has sent his worth up by about $100 billion this year. That gives him all the more to donate in future should he stick to his word. Moreover, helping fight global warming and colonizing Mars might end up being even more important for humanity than ending a pandemic, over the long run. This needn’t be the last time Musk takes a title from his Seattle-based fellow plutocrat.

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