Elon Musk’s fortune, like his business, is through the stratosphere. Musk and other billionaires have seen their tremendous wealth increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, the pandemic has pushed millions more people into poverty. In March, an analysis from Pew Research Center estimated that number was more than 130 million people worldwide. That is staggering. So too is Musk’s net worth, which has eclipsed $300 billion.

For more than a year, David Beasley, the United Nations World Food Programme director, has rightly been calling on the world’s billionaires to step up and do more in the fight against global hunger. He has said it will take $6 billion to feed more than 40 million people who are at risk of starvation. That’s not a new call to action. What is new is that he and Musk have gone back and forth on Twitter about it.

In late October on CNN, Beasley renewed his call for some of the world’s wealthiest to “step up now, on a one-time basis” and help those 42 million people. He specifically mentioned Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. (Bezos has pledged $2 billion toward conservation and food systems transformation, as part of an already announced $10 billion “Earth Fund.”)

Beasley’s comments eventually got a response from Musk on Twitter.

“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,” Musk said. “But it must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.”

Beasley was quick to tweet a response.

“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,” Beasley said to Musk. “With your help we can bring hope, build stability and change the future. Let’s talk: It isn’t as complicated as Falcon Heavy, but too much at stake to not at least have a conversation. I can be on the next flight to you. Throw me out if you don’t like what you hear!”

Musk again responded with a request for information about current and proposed costs.

“Please publish your current & proposed spending in detail so people can see exactly where money goes,” Musk tweeted. “Sunlight is a wonderful thing.”

Beasley had a response for that, too.

“Instead of tweets, allow me to show you. We can meet anywhere — Earth or space — but I suggest in the field where you can see @WFP’s people, processes and yes, technology, at work. I will bring the plan, and open books,” he told Musk. “You made 500K Teslas last year. We fed 115M+ people w/ nearly 20B rations. You know how to make cars; we know how to feed people. Decades of proven experience. Systems/ops in place. I look forward to showing you how we do it. Maybe you can show us how to do it better.”

Beasley also said that his organization’s financial statements and operations documents are public and available at wfp.org, going back 10 years. “We’re an open book,” he concluded.

As far as we can tell, the conversation stopped there — at least on Twitter. It would seem there is a good chance that is where this will all stay. And that would be a shame. The UN and the World Food Programme should actually send Musk a detailed plan for how they would spend his money, and see if this can turn into a tweet-to-eat win for millions of hungry people.

— Bangor Daily News (Maine)

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