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Musk’s haphazard philanthropy is under scrutiny

Editor’s Note: here. New York CNN  —  Elon Musk is notoriously skeptical of charity, preferring to focus on his for-profit ventures, which he believes will offer more transformative change for the world. As CEO of Tesla, “I’ve done more for the environment than any single human on Earth,” he told the New York Times last year. (He wasn’t exaggerating for effect — he seems to really believe it.) Just last week, he attacked MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist who divorced Jeff Bezos in 2019, for her own (significantly more generous) charitable work. “‘Super rich ex-wives who hate their former spouse’ should … be listed among ‘Reasons that Western Civilization died,’” Musk wrote in an X post that was later deleted. Despite his outward derision, Musk did set up a charitable foundation back in 2001. And it does give out some money. Sometimes. But the foundation appears to be consistent with Musk’s general disdain toward non-profit work, giving ammo to his detractors who see him as less of a visionary and more of a trolling profiteer hell-bent on acquiring power. See here: The Musk Foundation’s record of giving is, according to a New York Times analysis, “haphazard and largely self-serving.” The non-profit has a total of zero full-time staff, just a board that includes Musk and two volunteers, and it “has failed in recent years to give away the bare minimum required by law” to justify his tax breaks. Of course, there’s no law compelling billionaires to give away money to charity. But American tax law dangles some significant incentives for them to do so. Musk likely managed to shave a couple billion off his $11 billion tax bill in 2021, thanks to the $5.7 billion he donated to the Musk Foundation, according to the Times. “The tax system certainly favors and encourages the combination of philanthropy when you’re new at that ultra-high net worth level,” Amir Pasic, dean of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, tells me. And when you create a foundation, you can maintain some control over the way the funds are disbursed, he added. In Musk’s case, according to the Times, that meant giving millions of dollars to Cameron County, Texas. Of course, that decision was announced shortly after a SpaceX rocket explosion littered the region with shrapnel. Other donations went to two schools — one walled off inside a SpaceX compound and another built next to a housing compound for employees. “The way I see Elon Musk is that he’s really pushing the limits of the alternative approaches to philanthropy,” Pasic said.