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376Joined Feb 2020

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34

I currently think SBF was just lying about not caring about ethics.

Edit: leaving the original tweet below, but I no longer endorse this take.


SBF is a lot more cynical/nihilistic/immoral than I had suspected.

I think people are overrating the causal role EA ideology played here.

This doesn't sound like someone for whom utilitarian calculus was a decisive factor.

  • "It's only wrong if you lose"
  • "If you win it doesn't matter what your morals were."
  • "Being upright/principled and losing is bad"
  • "Ethical talk is just PR"
  • "Ethics is itself just signalling and status games"

What a bleak world view.

That sounds like an empirical question that I don't have the data (or expertise) to evaluate/estimate at this point.

To start with, I'd try to familiarise myself with the econ discount literature, understand their methodology and the motivations for particular recommended discount rates and work from there.

I had a pretty sophisticated/elaborate framework for longtermist ethics within a consequentialist metaframework, but I think this distinction between consequentialism-as-a-criterion-of-judgment and consequentialism-as-a-decision-procedure elides the need for such sophistry sophistication.

Once we make that distinction, the case for temporal discounting falls out naturally as a function of our uncertainty.

Sorry, I'm just very human centric in my moral thinking. Considering non human moral patients requires deliberate effort, and it's not something that readily comes to mind.

 

That said, while I do grant non human animals some consideration in some moral decision making, I don't particularly care for them here:

I'd destroy the rest of the biosphere in a heartbeat so that humanity may flourish among the stars.

That being said, only slightly updating towards him using EA ideology as his main motivator to commit fraud, as that still may very well not be the case.

 

For the record, I did not believe this to be the case (and had extensively argued as so on Twitter). Even a naive utilitarian calculus doesn't justify risking the funds of over a million customers, the FTX Future fund, the reputation and public goodwill of the EA community, and the entirety of FTX itself to try and bail out Alameda (if that is indeed what happened).

 

That said, an EA in crypto I trust has told me that if Alameda went under, FTX would have gone  down with it, and so it may have been a case of "lose literally everything" or gamble customer funds to try and save Alameda (and by extension FTX). 

If Alameda's bad bets was going to drag FTX under if SBF let it fail, then it's possible that the trade was:

  • Lose Alameda Research, FTX (and its customer funds), the FTX Future Foundation and all future donations
  • Gamble customer funds to try and save all the above (if you win) vs lose them and the reputation and public goodwill of the Effective Altruism community if you lose

 

Then the utilitarian calculus is very different. I'm not trying to argue that SBF committed fraud due to EA ideology, but it's no longer as implausible as it seemed to me in the first place.

At least it may not be the case that SBF had the option to just let Alameda go under and keep FTX/its customer funds. It's not clear that the funds of over a million customers would have been preserved even if FTX did not gamble them.

 

(The above argument is speculative and based on second hand explanations of crypto dynamics I don't understand very well; it may be completely wrong.)

Copying my LW comment:

 

I don't buy this argument for a few reasons:

  • SBF met Will MacAskill in 2013 and it was following that discussion that SBF decided to earn to give
    • EA wasn't a powerful or influential movement back in 2013, but quite a fringe cause.
  • SBF was in EA since his college days, long before his career in quantitative finance and later in crypto

 

SBF didn't latch onto EA after he acquired some measure of power or when EA was a force to be reckoned with, but pretty early on. He was in a sense "homegrown" within EA.

 

The "SBF was a sociopath using EA to launder his reputation" is just motivated credulity IMO. There is little evidence in favour of it. It's just something that sounds good to be true and absolves us of responsibility.

 

Astrid's hypothesis is very uncredible when you consider that she doesn't seem to be aware of SBF's history within EA. Like what's the angle here? There's nothing suggesting SBF planned to enter finance as a college student before MacAskill sold him on earning to give.

One thing I definitely believe, and have commented on before[1], is that median EA's (I.e, EA's without an unusual amount of influence) are over-optimising for the image of EA as a whole, which sometimes conflicts with actually trying to do effective altruism. Let the PR people and the intellectual leaders of EA handle that - people outside that should be focusing on saying what we sincerely believe to be true

FWIW, I'm directly updating on this (and on the slew of aggressively bad faith criticism from detractors following this event).

I'll stop trying to think about how we should optimise for and manage PR, and default to honesty and accurate representation (as opposed to strategic presentation of our positions to make them more appealing/easier to accept). (This is not to imply that I ever condoned lying, but I have thought that it may be better to e.g. change which parts of EA messaging we highlight based on what people seem best receptive to vs our real cruxes: e.g. justify existential risk mitigation because 8 billion people dying is bad, instead of via inaccessible longtermist arguments.)

Strongly, very strongly endorse and agree with this take.

The perspective of lawfully selling utilons for money was a perspective that I didn't know I was missing in viewing philanthropy.

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