Billionaire Elon Musk has been named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2021, as the world’s richest man transforms life on-planet by shifting the way people move around, and off-planet by planning a city on Mars.
“The richest man in the world does not own a house and has recently been selling off his fortune. He tosses satellites into orbit and harnesses the sun; he drives a car he created that uses no gas and barely needs a driver,” the magazine said of Musk.
“With a flick of his finger, the stock market soars or swoons. An army of devotees hangs on his every utterance. He dreams of Mars as he bestrides Earth, square-jawed and indomitable.”
Musk, 50, became the world’s richest man, overtaking Amazon’s Jeff Bezos earlier in the year, with a current net worth of $254 billion, by riding on his almost 17 percent share in the world’s most valuable automaker, Tesla. Tesla has a market cap of $963 billion, which had been reduced from a $1 trillion valuation just two months back.
Tesla’s fall mostly resulted from a series of Musk tweets that ended with the capricious billionaire selling off shares worth $12 billion, based on a poll in which he asked his Twitter followers whether he should sell a 10 percent stake in Tesla. This action was initiated as a response to a Democratic proposal to tax the unrealized gains of billionaires, which Musk did not agree with.
Besides Tesla, Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX, which made history this year by completing a trip to space and back with an all-civilian crew. Musk is on course to send a lunar lander to the moon, followed by a tourist mission around the satellite in 2023.
Musk wants to send the first unmanned flight to Mars in 2024, after which he expects to land humans on Mars in 2026, part of his plan for eventual colonization of the planet.
“The goal overall has been to make life multi-planetary and enable humanity to become a spacefaring civilization,” Musk said.
“And the next really big thing is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars and bring the animals and creatures of Earth there. Sort of like a futuristic Noah’s ark. We’ll bring more than two, though—it’s a little weird if there’s only two.”
Musk’s other ventures include brain-chip startup Neuralink and the Boring Co.
“For creating solutions to an existential crisis, for embodying the possibilities and the perils of the age of tech titans, for driving society’s most daring and disruptive transformations, Elon Musk is TIME’s 2021 Person of the Year,” Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor-in-chief said.
Musk had a difficult childhood in South Africa and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. After overcoming a personal tragedy, he went on to found companies such as PayPal with Peter Thiel.
His global ambitions, and the pace with which Musk moves, have had some consequences as well. Tesla and SpaceX have been hit with sexual harassment lawsuits, with the automaker getting sued for poor working conditions. There have been multiple regulatory violations including investigations into Tesla’s Autopilot software, which has been involved in a number of crashes.
Tesla’s expansion in China has been met with criticism from a broad array of people from different political perspectives. At present, the company faces scrutiny from Chinese Communist Party regulators who want access to the massive amounts of user data collected by the automaker.
Musk has been accused of being a bit hard on people.
“He is a savant when it comes to business, but his gift is not empathy with people,” his brother and business partner, Kimbal Musk, told Time.
Musk also believes there’s an erosion of freedom in the United States at present. Although vaccinated, Musk doesn’t agree with mandates.
“He wants eternal glory for doing great deeds, and he is an asset to the human race because he defines a great deed as something that is great for humanity,” says Robert Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society.
With 66.2 million followers on Twitter, Musk is significantly influential. Some of his tweets have wiped off billions from market value, while others have boosted seemingly insignificant trends like meme stocks.
Time magazine defines the Person of the Year as someone “who affected the news or our lives the most, for better, or worse.”
Other winners of the recognition were vaccine scientists, named “Heroes of the Year,” Olivia Rodrigo, named “Entertainer of the Year,” and Simone Biles, named “Athlete of the Year.” Last year’s Person of the Year award went jointly to then-candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.