Dean Abele

101 karmaJoined Nov 2021


One thing I've noticed about getting a lot of perks is, for some reason, it makes me feel "safe"; in a way that a high salary doesn't. Probably because I would just save most of the high salary, but perks force me to live like a rich person. And therefore, make me feel like a rich person. This, therefore, makes me feel that my job security/life is better/safer than it actually is. I would always prefer cash compensation. Cash doesn't distort my thinking (as much), and it helps me weather possible unemployment. Therefore, I would be much sadder to lose a highly-paid job than a high-perk job. However, feeling rich does have its benefits. It makes me more willing to take risks in my work and behaviour. Another problem with perks is the psychological confusion of seeing so much money being spent by a charity. This wouldn't apply to a for-profit. Also, some perks, like a PA, are a much clearer signal that "we value your time". Other perks, like a super fancy resort, seem morally weird coming from an "EA non-profit". 

Tee is charging people $750 a month to be a "coach in training". That doesn't seem to be in the spirit of effective altruism. Wouldn't it be less scammy to make it a traditional job and take a cut of their revenue? 

In general, I thought economic studies say the damage of fraud is much bigger than the distributional effect due to loss of trust, etc. I can try to find sources if anyone is interested.

Thank you, Cornelis. Yes, I'm a big fan of Lars Doucet. One of my goals was to try to make Georgism an EA cause area. YIMBYism is already a minor EA cause area. However, I don't want to distract from AI safety, particularly if EA is now more funding contained. So I might just do earning to give.

Hi Sam, thanks for writing this. I'm not sure why I got so many disagree votes. I don't think crypto is a scam because criminals use it. I think they don't have the properties of a good currency. Maybe some of the stablecoins have some of them. But many of them seem to have crashed, and the transaction costs don't seem much better than traditional money transfers. It's possible that the traceability of Blockchain is an advantage over government fiat currencies. But many businesses don't want everything to be traceable. So this only seems like an advantage to the police. 

Nor do they seem like a real investment because they don't generate cash flow. They are just a sort of faith-based store in value like Gold. Is that wrong?

There are also many things in Web 3 that look like literal scams.

I listed: Ponzi Schemes (yield farming); Pump and Dump (most new cryptocurrencies);  Pyramid Schemes (Web 3 "jobs"), and taking risky bets with deposits (FTX).

Yes, I agree with you regarding the Bloomberg interview. I linked this as evidence that he didn't think he was helping his customers. It was quite a viral interview which is why I'm surprised more people in EA weren't talking about it.

I can't claim to be a crypto expert, but the whole thing looks pretty unethical to me when you see ordinary people regularly losing all of their money. I wish EA was less associated with what I see as a scam industry.

That's true. Crypto seems to have evolved from a convenient currency for criminals to a way for "entrepreneurs" to scam ordinary people.

None of them have the properties of a good currency. Nor do they generate cash flow, so they aren't real investments. So in the best case, they are pure bubbles. 

It is surprisingly easy to scam people into buying these economically worthless lines of code by simply repeating "DeFi", "The Federal Reserve is evil" (for some unexplained reason), "You would have been a billionaire if you bought BitCoin in 2010", "Don't miss out", "It's the future", "Don't be a FUDer". 

This isn't enough for these greedy "entrepreneurs", so they have resorted to well-known financial scams. Ponzi Schemes (yield farming); Pump and Dump (most new cryptocurrencies);  Pyramid Schemes (Web 3 "jobs"), and taking risky bets with deposits (FTX).

The result of all of this is that people waste their lives in an industry that can't produce anything economically valuable, huge amounts of energy are wasted, and financial resources that could be invested in productive businesses sit in worthless lines of code.

And of course, many ordinary hard-working people lose their life savings.

Banks, P2P platforms, listed corporations, Private Equity Firms and VCs all invest in potentially economically valuable enterprises that could generate cash flow. Mainstream finance isn't perfect, but crypto isn't the answer. The loss in economic growth from the underinvestment caused by crypto is potentially considerable.

I want to say that I have tremendous respect for you, I love your writing and your interviews, and I believe that your intentions are pure.

How concerned were you about crypto generally being unethical? Even without knowledge of the possibly illegal, possibly fraudulent behaviour. Encouraging people to invest in "mathematically complex garbage" seemed very unethical. (Due to the harm to the investor and the economy as a whole).

SBF seemed like a generally dishonest person. He ran ads saying, "don't be like Larry". But in this FT interview, he didn't seem to have a lot of faith that he was helping his customers.

"Does he worry about the clients who lose life-changing sums through speculation, some trading risky derivatives products that are banned in several countries? The subject makes Bankman-Fried visibly uncomfortable. Throughout the meal, he has shifted in his seat, but now he has his crossed arms and legs all crammed into a yogic pose."

It is now clear that he is dishonest. Given he said on Twitter that FTX US was safe when it wasn't (please correct me if I'm wrong here).

I think that even SBF thinks/thought crypto is garbage, yet he spent billions bailing out a scam industry, possibly with customer deposits. If he had been successful, the result would have been more people getting scammed.

I hate to say, "I told you so", but I told many people in EA privately that I thought SBF was possibly doing more harm than good. The mechanism I argued was that making EA associated with a scam industry would hurt EA and increase x-risk. Everyone I told dismissed my concerns as implausible/ defended crypto.

I obviously regret not saying this publicly; I was afraid of the impact this could have on my job security. 

I believe that I, along with many other people in EA, was blinded by his massive philanthropy in an Emperor Wears No Clothes kind of situation. Or maybe No-Face from Spirited Away.

I think I was greedy and had a fear-based mindset. I don't know if the community was encouraging independent thought or free speech regarding SBF/FTX/crypto. Obviously, on the forum, people were, but maybe less so on the inside when employed in an EA org, particularly the higher-ups.

I'm feeling a lot of things right now. If this turns out to be an Enron/ Madoff situation, I don't know if I can trust you anymore. I don't know if I should stay in EA. I would feel very sad if you publicly praised someone who turned out to be morally bankrupt. Of course, everyone makes mistakes. But still, some trust has been lost.

My inside view is that LVT is on a similar order of magnitude in importance to AI safety. As it seems more neglected and tractable, the scale is, of course, much smaller. Everyone in EA said I was wrong, and I trusted them, so I updated my outside view. But now I don't know what to think. I hope I'm using the terms inside view and outside view correctly. Sorry if this is unclear/ too much of a rant. I'm very upset about all of this.

Edit: Many non-profits don't know what to do when being offered donations by morally questionable billionaires. Turning it down is, of course, challenging and possibly not the most impactful action. If they accept the money, they usually try to avoid praising the donor, being publicly associated with them or making them a central figure in their movement. Why didn't you do that?