Musk & Bezos & Other Geniuses That Aren’t Smart.

Thomas Rademacher
9 min readJan 2, 2024
If you ever want to feel better about yourself or worse about the world, go look up a bunch of articles calling either of these dry farts a genius.

Have you ever read something so vacuously dense (like a black hole of bad thinking) that it makes you rethink how you view all of human history? For me, it was this story in Fortune quoting two of the of the richest thumbs in the world who believe, apparently, that what the world needs more than anything else is… more people.

Steve Mollman in Fortune

A trillion people, because “Our solar system would be full of life and intelligence and energy.” Ugh.

Unless I am greatly misreading things, in order to believe this is true, then you must also believe two very clueless things:

1. It would serve humanity so substantially to have more Mozarts that it would be worth the damage to the world (or, fine, worlds, you goddamn Elon weirdos) and the suffering and starving and wars that would come as a result of so many more people fighting over space, religion, and resources. In other words, you have to believe that geniuses are a thing, and that the best way to advance our science, society, and species is for us to have a few thousand very special men.

2. The primary barrier to more Mozarts is a larger pool of people, and not that within the rather sizable pool of people on this earth there are already plenty of Mozarts and Marie Curies. You have to believe that there is no genius fighting for last breaths under the rubble in Gaza, or hiding from gunmen in Sudan, or starving in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, or poisoned by the water they drink or air they breath. Let’s tackle this one first.

What COULD They Do?

How many Mozarts are too hungry to be genius, or too scared or too poor or too sick or too silenced?

How many Mozarts are (actually or metaphorically) going to schools without a music program?

Or, how about this: How many Mozarts are working 60 hour weeks for not enough money and with not enough time? How many people do you know that have a life where they are able to pursue their one true passion and talent without reservation?

And you know what? These two billionaire buttnugs could actually do a lot to fix these things.

(A quick note here before anyone gets too worked up. You’re about to read some sloppy math by me combined with best guesses and estimates from various government agencies and non-profits. Would it cost exactly 64 billion dollars to end hunger in the United States? Unlikely. Would there be waste and mistakes and unforeseen problems? Of course. But would 64 billion dollars ease suffering and struggling on a scale that is historic and unimaginable and also what really should be, like, the lowest possible rung on anything that wants to call itself a society? Yes.)


Remember when Musk tweeted he would donate 6 billion dollars to solve world hunger if he could be shown a plan that would actually solve it?

The head of the World Food Programme responded with a plan to feed 47 million people on the brink of death (none of whom, I guess, Musk or Bezos is concerned could be a Mozart) for a year, and Musk stopped responding. The plan may not have solved world hunger, but it would have made it 6 billion dollars better, which is a lot better for 47 million people.

Honestly, I stopped paying attention to all this when it came out a few weeks later that Musk had indeed quietly donated 5.7 billion dollars to an anonymous recipient. I figured that must have been to the WFP (or something similar). I wasn’t alone.

Fred Lambert in Electrek

So, I moved on to the next rage-baitey thing on the internet. Except that, well… it turns out that money was donated to his own foundation, a foundation that in 2021 had around 9.4 billion dollars of assets but had donated only around $160 million that year. The WFP says it never got any money from Musk. Many chalked the exchange up to Musk “trolling.” The World Food Programme. About people starving to death.

Sharon Zhang in Truthout

Maybe you believe that since it’s his money, he can do what he wants with it. Maybe you believe that Elon has earned it, or that anyone could possibly earn a few hundred billion dollars, and that the system is totally fair and right and the best way to do things. I disagree, but fine. Since I can’t actually take his money away, this is just pretend. So, pretend with me.

What could two tech bros do with 450 billion dollars instead of investing in a space travel infrastructure with a goal to spread the human species across our solar system so there can be a trillion people instead of just 8 billion?


They could give 1 million dollars to every school in America and still have a combined 352 billion dollars left.

and THEN they could pay off all the medical debt in the United States and still have 264 billion,

and THEN could solve homelessness (45 billion, according to USDHUD (this is about what Twitter was purchased for)),

and THEN end hunger in the US (64 billion according to hunger free America),

and THEN test every backlogged rape kit (using the largest estimates I could find, this one thing would cost the two about .08% of their total wealth),

and THEN give another million to every prison and juvenile detention facility for programming, safety, and support staff (3 billion),

and THEN fund the equivalent of all the money spent on public programs during the New Deal (140 billion, after adjusting for inflation),

and still have 12 billion dollars combined, which is still more money than anyone should ever need.

How much is 12 billion dollars? Well, One of the most expensive NFT’s ever sold was CryptoPunk #5822. It sold in 2022 for $23,700,000. Yes, someone spent almost 24 million dollars on a digital image. It looks like this:

“This cryptopunk #5822 is one of the nine aliens and wears a blue bandana. Its value mainly comes from the fact that it is an alien.”

Our billionaire bros would still have enough to buy 506 of those in 2022, or, if buying it based on its most recent valuation, almost 100,000.

The Kamwokya Community Center in Kampala, Uganda features classrooms, an internet cafe, music studio, playground, and a sheltered court for various sports. It cost a little over a million dollars and looks like this:

Kendra Jackson and others in Azure

Someone paid almost 24 Kamwokya Community Center’s for an NFT of this image:

swear words.

Two Axe-body-spray-late-adopters worth a combined 450 billion dollars, one of whom just built a big clock in a mountain and one who bought twitter in a fit of transphobic shit-headdery, think we just need more people, as if they are unaware that anyone doesn’t have what they need, because then 1,000 Mozarts.

These dudes are our Mozarts now, I guess. They are people with enough time and more than enough resources that they could change the world (except that they possess no great skill, no great drive for beauty or betterment). Their genius is that they were born lucky and bought smart ideas and made money on top of money.

There are plenty of real Mozarts, an abundance of genius and vision in the world. We don’t need more people. We need better and safer and more fulfilling and free lives for the people who are already here.

Our Mozarts are harvesters of other peoples’ lifetimes, believers and benefiters of a myth that we are best served by the wealth and worship of a few brilliant men.

The Genius Myth

I’m reading a book right now, The Dawn of Everything, (because even my reading habits have an ego problem). In it, the authors do some work to disprove what is called the ‘Great Man Theory of History.’ Thomas Carlyle was one of the theory’s big proponents, and said during one in a series of speeches on the topic that “the History of the world is but the biography of great men.”

<Insert Vomit Emoji>

Which, well, I’m 42 years old and read a lot and think I’m pretty smart, and until reading it in this book had no idea this was a thing, and was also exactly how I saw (as was often taught) history. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the exact sort quote that Musk and Bezos and any number of obnoxious assholes in the world have taped to the vision boards in their private office bathroom next to a photoshopped picture of Ayn Rand saying “you’re a big strong boy.”

Carlyle’s obnoxious theory gets its ass kicked in the Dawn of Everything:

Intellectual historians have never really abandoned the Great Man theory of history. They often write as if all important ideas in a given age can be traced back to one or other extraordinary individual — whether Plato, Confucius, Adam Smith or Karl Marx — rather than seeing such authors writings as particularly brilliant interventions in debates that were already going on in taverns or dinner parties or public gardens (or, for that matter, lecture rooms), but which otherwise might never have been written down. It’s a bit like pretending William Shakespeare had somehow invented the English language. In fact, many of Shakespeare’s most brilliant turns of phrase turn out to have been common expressions of the day, which any Elizabethan Englishman or woman would be likely to have thrown into casual conversation. and whose authors remain as obscure as those of knock-knock jokes.

Remember how I said I got so mad that my entire way of seeing human history changed? We’re there now. Because the quote above made a ton of sense to me, and made me think about how I understood, well, everything before, which made me think of another book I read that made me change how I think about, well, everything next.

If there’s a great brain out there these days that I think we should all listen to, it’s that of adrienne maree brown (who is constantly recognizing the hearts and minds and bodies and beauty that contribute to her work), who wrote Emergent Strategy and also Pleasure Activism and also We Will Not Cancel Us. If you haven’t read brown, please do. If you’ve read her, you likely remember her thoughts on building human and humane movements that move like murmurations of birds, where we are aware of and care for those around us while understanding our role as a part of a whole.

It seems to me to be a great way to think about the ways that great artistic, political, and scientific movements in human history have also come to be. It’s not the ‘great man’ with his name on the book, invention, or office, but the thousands that flew and danced and worked and thought and argued together, who cared for the safety of those on each wing and trusted their safety in return.

brown also wrote this amazing essay on healing, which includes this thought:

We must become accountable to our time, our earth, our species, our people, and our loved ones, from the inside out.

What would wealth look like in a world like that? What would our world look like if wealth looked liked that?

To quote (out of context) Jeff Bezos, genius, “Our solar system would be full of life and intelligence and energy.”



Thomas Rademacher

Author of ‘It Won’t Be Easy.’ and ‘Raising Ollie’ 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. @mrtomrad on everything.