Dr. David Mathers

592Joined Dec 2021


Indeed. I actually am inclined to agree that more democracy in distributing funds and making community decisions is safer overall and prevents bad tail risks,  and I think Zoe Cremer's suggestions should be take seriously, but let's remember that democracy in recent years has given us Modi, Bolsonaro, Trump, Duterte and Berlusconi as leaders of countries with millions of citizens, on the basis of millions of votes, and that Hitler did pretty well in early 1930s German elections. Democracy is not just "not infallible" but has led to plausibly bad decisions about who should lead countries (as one example) on many occasions. (That might be a bit politicized for some people, but I feel personally confident all those leaders were knowably bad.) 

What's the evidence people actually went through the virtuous described process of thinking about whether to trust SBF and checking all these independent sources? (Science analogy is an interesting one though I agree.) 

Definitely: you are obviously right and Eliezer obviously wrong about this, imho. 


I do think it is hindsight bias to some degree to think that "EA" as a collective or Will MacAskill as an individual are recorded as doing something wrong, in the sense of "predictably a bad idea" at any point in the passages you quote. (I know you didn't actually claim that!) It's not immoral to tell some to found a business, so it's definitely not immoral to tell someone to found a business and give to charity. It's not immoral to help someone make a legal, non-scammy trade, as the anonymous Japanese EA apparently did ("buy low and sell high" is not poor business ethics as far as I know, though I'm prepared to be corrected about that by someone who actually knows finance.) It's a bit more controversial to say it's not wrong to take very rich people's money to do the sort of work EA charities do, but it's certainly not obvious that it is, and nothing in the quoted passages actually shows that any individual had evidence that FTX were a bad org to be associated with. (They may well have, I'm not saying no one did wrong, I'm just saying no wrong-doing is suggested by the information quoted here.) Furthermore "take money from rich people for philanthropy and speculative academic research" isn't exactly a uniquely EA practice! 

That leaves suggesting FTX think in utilitarian terms about maximizing, but I think it is obviously a complicated question whether that was a knowably bad idea when it was done, and depends on the details of how it was done. 

Of course, there may well have been wrong-doing at some point, but we need proper investigation before we decided. And furthermore, we can't just assume that any wrongdoing, even severe wrongdoing, that did occur would have saved the depositors SBF stole from, who are the main victims of this whole mess. My guess is that once the early decision to encourage SBF to found Alameda was made by Will, and SBF received some early help from the community, withdrawing our support later would not have done very much to prevent FTX from becoming a successful business that stole from its customers. But those early decisions are probably the least morally suspicious, in that they were taken early when there was the least available information about the business ethics of SBF and FTX/Alameda available. To repeat: I don't think telling someone to found a business to earn to give, or helping out a business make a legal, non-scammy trade, is itself immoral. (Again, I'm assuming the trade was legal and non-scammy, but very willing to be corrected!). The suspicious decisions that might have been decisive was maybe "get SBF and other FTX/Alameda high-ups to think in a utilitarian way'. But as I say, I don't think its reasonable to hold that was clearly wrong at the time. 

Ah! The simplest possible way! We should probably encourage them to add another 2: I am not so cynical as to think that no one is willing to give up control, so it might work. 

If they can't legally just take the money back, how do they control where it goes exactly? Can they sack the other board members? 

'Now that SBF's biggest endeavor has turned out to be a giant scam'  I'm not sure that is quite right. As far as I can tell, the main definite issue that has been proven is that he stole money when he lost money, which is not quite the same as the endeavor itself being a scam from the beginning. Not that that is any morally better, and it was so deeply, deeply morally wrong that I strongly suspect SBF has done other very bad things, but it's good to be precise I think. (I agree that Will had a severe conflict of interest, but I do think we have to stress that there's no strong direct evidence of wrongdoing on his part yet, and that getting rich people to fund you is a standard charity/political party model used by everyone, even if known to be problematic and even if Will and SBF seem to have been unusually connected.) 

The 2nd google hit for it is "Investopedia" (no idea how reliable a source it is), which claims that it was widely perceived as legally unproblematic until recently, but might actually not have been: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/k/kimchi-premium.asp

'Was the Kimchi Premium Associated with Illegal Money Transfers?

While it was usually assumed that the Kimchi premium was innocuous, caused by technical limitations of the Korean banking system and the popularity of crypto, a new investigation in the summer of 2022 suspects that more than $3.4 billion of illegal foreign transactions in the country stemmed from cryptocurrencies.'

No further source is cited. I find it hard to tell whether this was something that CEA should have reasonably known was dodgy when SBF exploited it, and how dodgy they should have thought it was, but it certainly seems very worth investigating in any postmortem. In general, I think the actual harm-to-the-general-public causing decision here was helping persuade SBF to set up Alameda in the first place, as from that point on he was probably perfectly capable of making a lot of money, and then losing it, and stealing from his depositors whether or not he had the good will of EAs. (Even if getting a good reputation was somehow necessary, he could have just given to other charities and not mentioned EA, and we'd probably have shut up about him even if we'd officially decided he was bad. And it's not clear having  reputation for public charity was particularly important to FTX's success, let alone Alameda's, anyway.) But that decision might not actually have been a bad one based on information available to the people who persuaded/influenced him at the time: "set up a hedge fund" is not obviously immoral, unless you have specific evidence that the person your getting to do it is really dodgy, or the business model of the hedge fund is morally dubious. So my guess is to know whether the really crucial harm-causing decision was actually bad on the information available at the time, or just unlucky, we need to know about this. 

I think what his public official motive would be is obvious: he's always tried to get people to do things he thinks have positive altruistic impact-for example, by writing books advocating they do stuff-so he was doing the same with potentially influential people at a more 1-1 level. I don't think this is something that's ever been hidden! I can see why you might reasonably think this sort of influence seeking feels a bit off, since on some level it is an attempt to exercise power in a way the bypasses democracy. I'm sure someone has criticized it on those grounds. But organizations recruiting talented college students is quite normal in itself, even if they don't usually have to sign on to a detailed philosophy. And even the latter is hardly unique: think of someone trying to network informally for people to get involved with their new libertarian think tank, or socialist magazine. 

I have, as it happens, a  low opinion of Eliezer's influence on EA (though I admit I've hardly read his stuff), but I still downvoted a generalized off-topic nasty personal attack. 

People believing utilitarianism could be predictably harmful, even if the theory actually says not to do the relevant harmful things. (Not endorsing this view: I think if you've actually spent time socially in academic philosophy, it is hard to believe that people who profess to be utilitarians are systematically more or less trustworthy than anyone else.)

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