Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk argued that the roughly $50 billion he would have to pay under a “billionaires tax,” proposed by congressional Democrats, would be better spent fueling his mission to Mars. On Sunday, the world’s richest man, with a net worth of $311 billion, briefly turned his attention to Earth and, in a tweet, took aim at the UN World Food Program (WFP).
“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 tweeted, following up to stipulate that the details must be “open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.”
But Musk’s promise wasn’t a spontaneous act of philanthropy; it was a Gordian knot of a challenge levied at the WFP.
Musk’s pledge was in response to a tweet that flagged a CNN headline citing David Beasley, the director of the WFP, who reportedly claimed that 2% of Elon Musk’s wealth could solve world hunger. The user who tweeted the CNN story was skeptical. The WFP raised $8.4 billion in 2020 to help feed impoverished people. Why, the tweeter asks, didn’t that solve world hunger?
WFP director Beasley was quick to chime in on Twitter and shed some light on the debate. First, Beasley dismissed CNN’s headline as “not accurate” and confirmed that $6 billion will not “solve world hunger.” Rather, Beasley and the WFP want $6 billion to feed “42 million people that are literally going to die if we don’t reach them” this year.
In his interview with CNN, Beasley said the $6 billion was needed on a “one-time basis” but, evidently, if the systemic issues that perpetuate global poverty and hunger aren’t resolved, this won’t be the last time the WFP asks for donations.
Last year, Beasley called on billionaires to contribute a combined $5 billion to the WFP after the UN group won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on combating world hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the WFP, the number of people on the “brink of starvation” doubled during the pandemic—while the net worth gains of hundreds of billionaires accelerated.
The WFP—which does publish audited financial reports each year—has been questioned over its efficiency before. In 2018, the nonprofit Center for Global Development (CGD) ranked the WFP last out of 40 aid agencies assessed for “aid effectiveness.” But the CGD excluded the WFP from its rankings this year after updating its own methodology to exclude humanitarian aid as a measure in most of its metrics. The WFP was excluded because most of its spending is “humanitarian” rather than “developmental,” i.e., geared toward solving problems now, rather than fixing root causes.
So how do you solve problems like systemic world hunger? This Twitter exchange didn’t come up with any answers, but many critics want the likes of Elon Musk to try to figure it out before they start colonizing space.
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