People criticizing Time magazine for naming billionaire Elon Musk 2021’s person of the year need a reality check. Do we really want to discourage applause for the man who is at the forefront of global innovation?
Since Time’s announcement, social media has been flooded with criticism against the magazine.
In a fundraising email, Rep. Pramila Jayapal said she “couldn’t believe Time Magazine just named Elon Musk its “Person of the Year,” and later accused Musk of not paying his “fair share” of taxes on Twitter. New York Times bestselling author Kurt Eichenwald also attacked the choice on Twitter, saying Time’s selection of Musk was the “worst choice ever.”
The backlash all boils down to one evidently unforgivable fact: He’s a billionaire.
Let’s not forget he’s also the genius behind the world’s leading electric car company, whose customers helped the world avoid 5 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2020 alone. You’d think that at least my generation, which faces the repercussions of climate change the most, would understand this accomplishment is worth applauding — but no. Instead, we retweet the hypocritical boomer senators who are lecturing Musk on Twitter for not paying enough taxes.
We shouldn’t let cultural disdain for wealth get in the way of environmental progress. Musk shouldn’t be criticized for getting rich through his inventions, especially not by my fellow Gen-Zers. Instead, we should be celebrating him for the work he’s done to shape a better world for our generation and generations to come.
In a world that is often overshadowed by our culture of doom and gloom, Musk represents hope for young people. Granted, he’s not perfect, and perhaps he should face criticism for his sometimes childish behavior. But his overall child-like mindset is actually his greatest strength. His ability to believe in a better future is an outlier in our culture.
The best explanation for the negative reactions to Musk’s nomination might be found in the Time feature itself. One interviewee, conservative economist James Pethokoukis, notes how Musk’s beliefs in “a politics of progress” leaves him in a minority, as his views are not “fully represented by either side in this country,” especially on the “traditional left-right spectrum.” Moreover, Musk’s underlying belief that the solution to man’s problems comes from “growth and technological progress” to maximize “human potential” is hardly standard in a world of techno-pessimists.
If Musk’s mindset leaves him on the outside looking in, we should be worried. A society condemning dreamers who benefit financially from their hope in making the world a better place through technological advancements likely won’t thrive.
Hating Musk because he’s rich is shortsighted. Profit is the best incentive for progress and technological advance. For another example, look no further than the vaccine. If you think Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer developed their shots for charity, you’re fooling yourself.
My generation needs to wake up and start appreciating the potential our free-enterprise system has to harness technological advances that can pull us into a brighter future. Musk embodies that potential and that hope.
Cooper Conway is a Young Voices contributor and a Frank Church Scholar at the Boise State University Honors College.
Image licensed under CC BY 2.0.