Here's one way to look at it: When you give your money to Gates you generally know what you're going to get - stamping up diseases, immunisation and lots of other great stuff.
When you give your money to Musk, you don't. It's much less clear. You don't know what problems he's going to tackle. You don't know how he's going to tackle them. And you don't know if he'll succeed.
1. Giving your money to Bill is like investing in a tried-and-tested branch of science or technology with measurable possible outcomes.
2. Giving your money to Elon is like investing in an absolutely cutting-edge branch of science. At the absolute bleeding-edge. Maybe even beyond the bleeding-edge.
Both are important. Here's a story to show you why.
One day back in the 1930s, before the war, all the academics in the USA found an unusual survey in their pigeonholes. It asked them to rank all the various academic departments in the USA by importance. Most important at the top. Least important at the bottom. They were asked to use their intuitions - what did they feel were the most and least relevant to the future of humanity.
After the academics filled in these surveys, their responses were gathered up and collated into a league table with the 'most important' disciplines at the top, and the least at the bottom. What was at the top? All the usual suspects like branches of physics, chemistry and biology.
What was at the bottom? Right at the bottom was Medieval History. The very least important academic subject. So far, so unexpected. But second to bottom was Nuclear Physics. Before the war it was considered a useless, hypo-theoretical branch of science only studied by nuts and eccentrics.
Of course, not much longer later the US dropped 2 bombs on Japan ending the nuclear war.
If we'd only funnelled our money in those things with obvious tangible, well-defined outputs, we'd have shut down our nuclear physics departments and the world would have been a very different place.
What I'm saying is that investing in long-sighted, ill-defined, radical, impractical projects is not only valuable but essential.
Dropping money to people like Bill is important. But so is dropping money to Elon.
One of them ensures that we continue to make sustainable progress - that we continue down the road that we're already walking. The other ensures that we have the opportunity to find new roads, new paths and new routes.
Elon Musk runs engineering companies. They are certainly not at "the absolute bleeding edge" of science though.
If you want to fund science, then fund science. Scientists and their graduate students actually do work at the bleeding edge of science and routinely push beyond it with only a small, small, fraction of what these billionaires make.
We need the NIH, we need the NSF, we need CERN, now more than ever. Basic science is the only way to get significantly more return from a dollar invested, but nobody wants to pay upfront. That is why we need taxpayer funding in basic science. Scientific breakthroughs will yield such massive dividends in the long run, that citizens would literally be spending on their own well being in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Discoveries such as vaccines, antibiotics, surgery, genetics and others have allowed humans to enjoy a standard of living unfathomable even a hundred years ago.
If politicians had any vision whatsoever, they would have instigated a New Deal with massive investment in scientific and engineering research projects. Yet what did they do? Feed banks infinite loans at prime to keep them afloat, so that banks can choose to continue lending on a profit driven schedule.
Guess who gets loans at prime from banks? Not the NIH, that's for sure.
Oh really? Where did he study engineering? When did he take the FE exam?
That's not a term that you can throw around all willy-nilly, especially in the context of hardware. Next, are you about to tell me that the CEO of Ford is also an engineer?
The term "engineer" does not imply chartered/professional status in current popular usage.
Musk, on the other hand, holds a degree in physics. He started a PhD program on applied physics, but quit to pursue his entrepreneurial interests. If you judge engineers purely from an educational perspective, then yes, Musk is not an engineer.
Nonetheless, if we look at wikipedia's description of what "Engineer" means, we get:
> An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics, and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems.
So, by this definition, Musk is an engineer...
Although I do take issue with the above (happiness & growth) usage of the term, I'm completely fine with Elon calling himself an engineer because he actually did study engineering (albeit informally) via books, etc.
1. Used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand or being
indicated or experienced
1.1 Used to introduce someone or something
1.2 Referring to the nearer of two things close to the speaker (the other,
if specified, being identified by ‘that’)
2. Referring to a specific thing just mentioned
3. Used to identify a specific person or thing close at hand or being
indicated or experienced:
Notably, the very definition you posted makes no mention of that usage. From that definition there is no way to tell if "This" on its own means "This predeceeding comment is completely wrong" or "This predeceeding comment is completely right".
Also, "precisely" indicates degree rather than the generalist term "this". For example, "I'll meet you at this time tomorrow" and "I'll meet you at precisely this time tomorrow" have different connotations for how accurate you are expecting to be.
After all, SpaceX's plans for a reusable rocket are certainly more ambitious than anything governments have been doing for the last several decades.
It is undeniably government funded, backed, and run research that has fostered the technological "magic" we see today. I wrote "undeniable" because it is a fact--not a conjecture, opinion, or item subject to debate. Government funded and government run research programs created our space-age technology (literally) and the internet, and fueled a great percentage of the other developments that have advanced our technology so rapidly in the last several decades.
Private companies (whether held privately or publicly traded) are mainly creatures of fear and risk aversion--even the ones that are relatively less so than others. There's nothing especially "bleeding edge" about SpaceX or Tesla, or just about anything else Musk has been involved with. Historically, it has usually taken a great thrust by the government to make big advances, whether through subsidies (i.e. corporate welfare) or direct involvement (NASA/DARPA).
Saying that corporations are risk-averse followers is inane. Governments broadly fund a great deal of seed-level research. Sometimes they develop applications based upon it. Sometimes corporations get there first.
We're seeing an instance of the latter with SpaceX, I think.
Aside from that, your statement about a fully-reusable rocket may technically be true (I suspect that NASA actually has investigated a 100%-reusable rocket, but don't know for sure), but it is trivial and unsupportive of your point, since the concept isn't ground-breaking (the shuttle was completely reusable, even if the delivery system was only partially reusable) or even very risky, given the decades of research and engineering that the government has put into space rocket technology. That was, in fact my point. "Being conservative and risk-averse" is not synonymous with "never does anything new."
EDIT: And what's with the fixation on reusable rockets? It might lower some cost but it's hardly an amazing feat of science and engineering.
The 80% is pretty much guaranteed to be put to good use. And even at the worst case for the rest, you only lose 20%.
Investing in Musk would drive technology up. Technology is great multiplier, if you have infrastructure to multiply it with.
Investing in Gates would drive up quality of life and help to build infrastructure in the first place.
It is obvious that investing in both is optimal strategy as investment in one increases eventual value of other investment.
Those things can have a profound effect on the productive capacity of a people born into it. Can the third world brands of 'education as a major challenge' be solved to the point where most kids have a decent chance by our standards? If those kinds of changes happen, part of that increase in productive capacity almost certainly will go into building infrastructure.
Honestly I think that part of investing on a horizon like this and betting on either ambitious charities, companies or even in scientific research is that it's hard to know. Some people leave their endowments to Art and I'm not sure you can really coherently argue against it.
We only funded the Manhattan Project after the War had already started, and after nuclear fission had already been demonstrated in the lab. In Germany, mind you.
In other words, we didn't get the atomic bomb by lavishly funding the second least useful field of science. We got it by funding what was already known at the time to be the most promising weapon of mass destruction.
People had been writing about the possibilities of atomic energy since Rutherford. In fact, H. G. Wells even wrote a book, prior to the First World War, on how nuclear weapons would make it possible to destroy human civilization. (He got the details wrong about how the weapon worked, but he appreciated the enormous energies involved.)
A bunch of medieval historians may not have appreciated nuclear physics, but the real experts already knew of its potential. It was, after all, Albert Einstein who helped get the ball rolling on the Manhattan Project, by signing that letter and lending his celebrity to the cause.
It is on its face obviously severely capital-constrained.
Disclaimer: I'm a Christian.
The only difference is hindsight. Bullshit artists distort things as much today as they did in the past.
The scientific method enables one to deliver results because its models are predictive, not merely explanatory. The engineering and science we do today is also predictive because it relies on models cultivated within this methodology.
Equating today's "best guesses" with those in medieval or ancient times is absolutely inane.
> Of course, not much longer later the US dropped 2 bombs on Japan ending the nuclear war.
What? Are you suggesting that the US wouldn't have researched Nuclear weapons if we had started sooner?
A lot of engineering and basic research seems quite pointless until it, well, isn't.
Edit: just so you are not our own little Malcolm Gladwell though, a  would have been nice.