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The Cover Story
Elon Musk Is TIME's 2021 Person of the Year
By Edward Felsenthal
Editor in Chief and CEO of TIME

For nearly a century, TIME has named a Person of the Year—the individual or group who most shaped the previous 12 months, for better or for worse. 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. From Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to Facebook turned Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, the year brought home the extent to which, at a time of rising protest over ever deepening inequality, our lives and many of the basic structures around them are now shaped by the pursuits, products and priorities of the world’s wealthiest people.

Even in that rarefied crowd, Musk is in a class of his own. He sees his mission as solving the globe’s most intractable challenges, along the way disrupting multiple industries across two decades. These include what was once the core American creation, combustion-engine automobiles, and what was once the core American aspiration, spaceflight, as well as a litany of other manifestations of our present and future: infrastructure construction, artificial intelligence, neurotechnology, payment systems and increasingly money itself through his dalliances with cryptocurrencies.

In deciding each December who should be Person of the Year, we look back but also aim to look forward. Bezos was the choice in 1999 when e-commerce was just beginning to take off. Zuckerberg was selected in 2010, well before it was clear what Facebook’s full effect on society and democracy would be. We don’t yet know how fully Tesla, SpaceX and the ventures Musk has yet to think up will change our lives. At 50, he has plenty of time to write the future, his own and ours. Like it or not, we are now in Musk’s world.

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.

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