TIME Editor-in-Chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal writes, “Person of the Year is a marker of influence, and few individuals have had more influence than Musk on life on Earth, and potentially life off Earth too. In 2021, Musk emerged not just as the world’s richest person but also as perhaps the richest example of a massive shift in our society.”
Felsenthal continues, “Musk’s rise coincides with broader trends of which he and his fellow technology magnates are part cause and part effect: the continuing decline of traditional institutions in favour of individuals; government dysfunction that has delivered more power and responsibility to business; and chasms of wealth and opportunity. In an earlier era, ambitions on the scale of interplanetary travel were the ultimate collective undertaking, around which Presidents rallied nations… 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.”
In the cover story, TIME’s Molly Ball, Jeffrey Kluger and Alejandro de la Garza write, “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.”
On how Musk has spent a lifetime defying the haters; now, it seems, he’s finally in position to put them in their place, Molly Ball, Jeffrey Kluger and Alejandro de la Garza continue, “For 2021 was the year of Elon Unbound. In April, SpaceX won NASA’s exclusive contract to put U.S. astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. In May, Musk hosted Saturday Night Live. In October, car-rental giant Hertz announced it planned to add 100,000 Teslas to its fleet… amid Musk’s sale of 10% of his Tesla stock, a process that roiled markets, cost him billions and should produce enough tax revenue to fund the Commerce Department for a year. The sale was prompted by a Twitter poll Musk posted in a fit of pique over liberal Senators’ proposals to tax billionaires. Many people are described as larger than life, but few deserve it. How many of us truly exceed our life span?… How many will leave a mark on the world — much less the universe — for their contributions rather than their crimes? A few short years ago, Musk was roundly mocked as a crazy con artist on the verge of going broke. Now this shy South African with Asperger’s syndrome, who escaped a brutal childhood and overcame personal tragedy, bends governments and industry to the force of his ambition. To Musk, his vast fortune is a mere side effect of his ability not just to see but to do things others cannot, in arenas where the stakes are existential.”
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