When you could save billions of people from starving on Earth right now with your money, why to spend it on building space rockets for a future that might not even happen, his critics are often saying. What's the purpose of talking about sustainable living when you could buy an entire country if you wanted, and you probably dine on ponies on golden platters, only fly private, and enjoy the kind of luxurious life mere mortals only dream of?
Musk has heard the criticism, but he is no longer bothered by it. Last weekend, in a rare but wide-ranging interview with Chris Anderson for TED Talk, he addressed it and, at the same time, sets the record straight on what he's doing with his money. If you were expecting stories about multi-million yachts, mega-mansions, and rich people's toys, then you're in for a surprise. Elon Musk is a most relatable billionaire.
Elon Musk is homeless – not in the sense that he lives rough, but that he doesn’t own a house anymore. In what is perhaps the only case of a bum billionaire, he usually couch surfs at his rich friends’ homes, and he doesn’t indulge in the billionaire lifestyle. In addition to not owning a house, Musk doesn’t own a yacht either or any other fancy and expensive toy. If anything, that alone sets Musk apart from every other outrageously rich person out there, most of whom spend millions on all the trappings of the A-list life.
The only exception for Musk is his private plane, but that is a necessity and not a whim, he explains. He has to travel a lot for work, and the time would be wasted on the road instead of using it for meetings if he didn’t fly private.
“I'm literally staying at friends' places,” Musk says (at the 1.01-minute mark in the video below). “If I travel to the Bay Area, which is where most of Tesla's engineering is, I basically rotate through friends' spare bedrooms. I don't have a yacht. I really don't take vacations. It's not as though my personal consumption is high. I mean the one exception is a plane, but if I don't use the plane then I have less hours to work.”
And work is almost everything that Musk does. Well, that and having babies because – he says with a smile – he’s trying to set a good example by having more than one child since humanity is in grave danger of population collapse. He says the work he does at Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink is philanthropy because it’s for the sake of mankind.
As for all the criticism thrown at him, he chooses to focus on the reality of philanthropy instead of the perception of it. “Philanthropy is difficult,” he says, and since we’re not multi-billionaires, we’ll have to take his word for it.