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. 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. Lately, Elon Musk also likes to live-tweet his poops.
His startup rocket company, SpaceX, has leapfrogged Boeing and others to own America’s spacefaring future. His car company, Tesla, controls two-thirds of the multibillion-dollar electric-vehicle market it pioneered and is valued at a cool $1 trillion. That has made Musk, with a net worth of more than $250 billion, the richest private citizen in history, at least on paper. He’s a player in robots and solar, cryptocurrency and climate, brain-computer implants to stave off the menace of artificial intelligence and underground tunnels to move people and freight at super speeds. He dominates Wall Street: “The way finance works now is that things are valuable not based on their cash flows but on their proximity to Elon Musk,” Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine wrote in February, after Musk’s “Gamestonk!!” tweet vaulted the meme-stock craze into the stratosphere.
And now, he has been named Time’s Person of the Year 2021.