Hi folks, just wanted to share a new interview I did with Sam Bankman-Fried about Will MacAskill, effective altruism, and whether "earn to give" led him to make the mistakes he made at FTX. Interested, of course, in any thoughts.


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Remarkable interview. One key section (people should read the whole thing!):

When you talk about your mistakes, you talk about your intent. Your mother once described you as a “take-no-prisoners utilitarian.” Shouldn’t your intent be irrelevant? 

Except to the extent that it’s predictive of the future. But yeah, at the end of the day, I do think that, what happened happened, and whatever I was thinking or not thinking or trying to do or not trying to do, it happened. And that sucks. That’s really bad. A lot of people got hurt. And I think that, thinking about why it happened, there are some perspectives from which it matters, including trying to figure out what to do going forward. But that doesn’t change the fact that it happened. And as you said, I’m not expecting people to say, Oh, that’s all good then. Sam didn’t intend for me to lose money. I don’t miss that money anymore. That’s not how it works.

One of your close personal mentors, the effective altruism philosopher Will MacAskill, has disavowed you. Have you talked with him since?

I haven’t talked with him. [Five second pause.] I don’t blame him. [20-second pause and false starts.] I feel incredibly bad about the impact of this on E.A. and on him, and more generally on all of the things I had been wanting to support. At the end of the day, this isn’t any of their faults. 

This fucked up a lot of their plans, and a lot of plans that people had to do a lot of good for the world. And that’s terrible. And to your point, from a consequentialist perspective, what happened was really bad. And independent of intent or of anything like that, it’s still really bad.

Have you talked with your brother Gabe, who ran your Guarding Against Pandemics group? Are you worried, frankly, that you might have ruined his career too?

It doesn’t feel good either. Like, none of these things feel good.

Have you apologized to him?

Yeah, I spent a lot of last month apologizing, but I don’t know how much the apologies mean to people at the end of the day. Because what happened happened, and it’s cold comfort in a lot of ways.

I don’t want to put words in his mouth. I feel terrible about what happened to all the things he’s trying to do. He’s family, and he’s been supportive even when he didn’t have to be. But I don’t know what’s going through his head from his perspective, and I don’t want to put words in it.

Do you think someone like you deserves to go to jail? On a moral level, doesn’t someone who has inflicted so much pain—intent be damned—deserve it? There are a lot of people incarcerated in this country for far less.

What happens happens. That’s not up to me.

I can tell you what I think personally, viscerally, and morally feels right to me. Which is that I feel like I have a duty to sort of spend the rest of my life doing what I can to try and make things right as I can.

You shocked a lot of people when you referred in a recent interview to the “dumb game that we woke Westerners play.” My understanding is that you were talking about corporate social responsibility and E.S.G., not about effective altruism, right?

That’s right.

To what extent do you feel your image and donations gave you cover? I know you say you didn’t do anything wrong intentionally. But I wonder how much you were in on the joke.

Gave me cover to do what, though? I think what I was in on, so to speak, was that a lot of the C.S.R. stuff was bullshit. Half of that was always just branding, and I think that’s true for most companies. And to some extent everyone knew, but it was a game everyone played together. And it’s a dumb game.


Any chance you could share some key quotes or summary? This requires people to make an account to read.

You should be able to read a single story for free by trading an email!

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We lawyers almost invariably advise potential criminal defendants against taking to the media. I never believed we'd need to add "especially not while distracted by a video game."

Does EA Forum have a policy on sharing links to your own paywalled writing? E.g. I've shared link posts to my blog, and others have shared link posts to their substacks, but I haven't see anyone share a link post to their own paid substack before.

Journalists have to make a living and not all journalists writing good quality EA-relevant content have the fortune of being funded by philanthropy (like Future Perfect or Asterisk do). I thought this particular interview was very interesting (see especially the parts Haydn highlighted) and am glad the author posted a link to it.

These are some really good questions; thank you for trying to get Sam on the record (as little as his answers are probably worth...) on some of these important follow-up issues that weren't addressed in other coverage.

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