Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk attacked media representation of successful individuals this week after taking issue at being labelled a “billionaire” rather than an engineer or scientist.
Urban planner Blake Kistler kicked off the discussion on Twitter, asking: “I wonder how often Elon would rather be a physics engineer, or lead technical designer instead of having to carry the label of billionaire.”
Musk replied: “Ironically, the ‘billionaire’ label, when used by media, is almost always meant to devalue & denigrate the subject. I wasn’t called that until my companies got to a certain size, but reality is that I still do the same science & engineering as before. Just the scale has changed.”
When another user accused him of stockpiling his money and depriving the world of capital Musk shot back:
“No, it means I created jobs for 50,000 people directly and, through parts suppliers & supporting professions, ~250,000 people indirectly…What have you done?”
Musk might have added that his employees and his companies pay a significant amount of tax, quite apart from his personal and corporate philanthropy.
Musk has rightly identified an unfortunate media trend. When successful individuals reach a certain amount of wealth, they are defined by the wealth they hold, not the achievements or skills they bring to the table. Media clickbate articles entitled: “Who was Elon Musk before he became a billionaire?” suggest that being a “billionaire” is itself a profession, and a role which has no intrinsic value.
I salute Musk for daring to question the media’s orthodoxies. In an increasingly polarised political world, those of us who work in the wealth sector need to be more outspoken about the benefits of success, not just to our clients but to society as a whole. Fighting shy of this issue is not an option, as it only encourages the haters to believe that we are hiding a dirty secret. In truth, the only secret is the massive public benefit of brilliant individuals rising to the top.