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The infuriating insincerity of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos' chat about San Francisco homelessness – SF Gate

CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk speaks at the Tesla Giga Texas manufacturing “Cyber Rodeo” grand opening party on April 7, 2022, in Austin, Texas.
The vast majority of billionaires purposely stay under the radar, preferring to emerge in public only when it suits them. As political scientist Benjamin Page recently told the New York Times Magazine, “If billionaires suddenly started favoring the same things that most Americans favor in politics, then they’d probably be happier to talk about it.”
It is perhaps the only remaining relatable trait of billionaires: They, and we, do not like outwardly expressing unpopular opinions and stances, or saying things they know will piss people off. But that last remaining norm doesn’t apply to the behavior of the world’s two richest men, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, whose net worths dwarf even the other billionaires with more money than God. 
In case you missed it, at the tail-end of Musk’s most recent Twitter bender, during which he acquired the largest stake of the company, he asked his followers whether Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco should be turned into a homeless shelter, because “no one shows up anyway.”
This question was not posed out of the goodness of Musk’s heart, or because he was seriously pondering what to do about the increasingly empty office spaces dotting major cities. He was trolling on Twitter, and his legion of fans loved it. His followers voted 91% in favor of the idea, a showing of solidarity based on hero worship and epic LOLs, not a coherent ideology or a newfound advocacy for the homeless population. Then the world’s second-richest man, Bezos, chimed in on Musk’s tweet to add an air of legitimacy to an idea that Musk was never in a million years taking seriously (Musk has since deleted the tweet, in fact).
“Or do portion [of the headquarters],” Bezos responded. “Worked out great and makes it easy for employees who want to volunteer.” Bezos was referring to Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle — not to be confused with Amazon’s nationwide warehouses, where workers allege grueling conditions, union-busting tactics and insanely high turnover — noting that the headquarters includes a floor for unhoused folks.
The public exchange between Bezos and Musk was a detente of sorts in the cold relations between two fake space cowboys. It was also enraging, as are any conversations between the richest people on Earth about piecemeal solutions to systemic problems that they’ve only made worse. But most notably, it shows just how untouchable both men truly are, a reality they both seem to understand and relish.
Musk, a 50-year-old man who operates like a 17-year-old Twitch streamer, cares about addressing housing and homelessness about as much as he cares about his SpaceX workforce, which is to say not at all. He has no discernable record of donating to homeless advocacy groups, and his charity work more generally is laughably sparse relative to his net worth. Bezos, meanwhile, has started dabbling in proportionally inadequate philanthropic efforts related to homelessness, as is his M.O. regarding many of the Earth’s ills. (He notably hasn’t even signed the Giving Pledge, a “promise” by other billionaires to give away the majority of their wealth over their lifetimes or after death.) He’s donating roughly $100 million per year to homelessness initiatives; with a net worth of $176 billion, that’d be the equivalent a person with $100,000 to their name giving $4.67 a month to a homeless shelter.
Bezos at least seems like he wants his limited philanthropy to receive more media attention than his wealth hoarding. I’d prefer not to lose sight of the latter subject: With a combined net worth of approximately $448 billion, Musk and Bezos are exhibits 1A and 1B for the exploding income inequality that has caused such a dire housing crisis both in the Bay Area and the United States. Even when they’re pretending to address (or are profiting off of) their pet interests, Musk and Bezos are, by default, not doing enough. Their chosen lifestyle is why so many people are unhoused or struggling under dire working conditions. There are 573 more billionaires on Forbes’ 2022 list compared with its pre-pandemic list; on the other side of the coin, California’s rent relief program has failed, there are no more stimulus checks coming for Americans, U.S. inflation just jumped 8.5% (America’s sharpest increase since 1981), and real wages for workers fell 2.8% over the past 12 months.
Meanwhile, billionaires like Musk and Bezos get away with not paying a federal income tax, as ProPublica uncovered. You, reading this right now, probably pay a higher effective tax rate than Musk and Bezos do. In an attempt to plug a single hole in the bursting income inequality dam, Joe Biden has proposed a paltry “billionaire tax” that would assess a 20% minimum tax rate on America’s richest people. 
According to the New York Times Magazine, when Forbes embarked on its first billionaires list in 1982, its reporters discovered the world’s richest man, a shipping magnate, was worth $2 billion — that’s $5.8 billion adjusted for today’s dollars. Let me reiterate: Musk and Bezos are now worth a combined $448 billion. The difference between Musk and the shipping magnate, bumping him to a 2022 adjusted net worth of $5.8 billion, is like comparing someone with $100,000 to someone with $2,157.
And that’s what makes the two richest people on Earth blithely discussing how to convert portions of Twitter and Amazon HQ into one-off homeless shelters so cartoonishly offensive. Their imaginations and ambitions shrink infinitesimally smaller when they can’t make billions off a product (real and imagined). They would never, will never, seriously confront the inequality challenges that lay before us because they don’t care. They can’t care. It’s antithetical to their existence. 
No one needs billions and billions and billions of dollars, and certainly, no one has earned that much money. Nothing short of stripping Musk and Bezos of their untold wealth — at bare minimum, even just returning to a time where the world’s richest person had a few billion dollars — would suffice in significantly alleviating, and potentially eliminating, homelessness in this country.
Musk and Bezos aren’t seriously concerned about the possibility of having their net worths drained. So much so that rather than staying quiet while accumulating more and more wealth like other billionaires, Musk and Bezos have instead opted for a different track. They’re publicly, rather than privately, rubbing it in and reiterating how little they think of the rest of us. A single-floor homeless shelter in a tech office is the extent of their outreach, in between the tweets, of course. Don’t expect anything else. Musk and Bezos have more important things to do, like amassing a trillion dollars for themselves.
Alex Shultz is the sports editor for SFGATE. You can reach him at alex.shultz@sfgate.com.

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