illative

73Joined Nov 2022

Comments
4

"Samuel Bankman-Fried committed wire fraud and conspiracy against innocent people in order to raise money for philanthropic and political causes"

I wish people would stop saying this as if it were true -- this idea that Sam's primary motivation was all about raising money for EA or 'the greater good' more broadly. As Eliezer pointed out, "The amount that FTX spent on e-sports naming rights for TSM was greater than everything they donated to effective altruism", to give just one example of a decidedly non-philanthropic-or-political cause that he apparently spent tons of money on. The fact that SBF was an EA fanboy just isn't enough to give very much weight to the claim "if mainstream American government agencies and philanthropists had given higher priority to important/neglected/tractable cause areas then Bankman-Fried might not have engaged in wire fraud", at all.

"So a strong belief in longtermism doesn't inherently give rise to rulebreaking... it's simply the sharp disparity in values between longtermists and everybody else. "

This assumption of an association between longtermism and rulebreaking is something we should be pushing back on, unless there is strong evidence for it. We shouldn't be accepting the assumption as true and then trying to explain it post-hoc.

"I suggest also writing to the new FTX CEO to let him know the funds are being set aside in this way"

 

I worry that this could go badly wrong if an affected individual were to do this, in the following way:

(1) An affected grantee makes statements to FTX which imply that they believe all of the money that they were given rightfully belongs to FTX's creditors, or could be interpreted in court to imply this

(2) The bankruptcy trustee sends out their routine demand letter. The grantee, having set the money aside, originally thought that they could repay GRANT_SIZE - AMOUNT_SPENT. Unfortunately, their government has treated their grant as income, so they had or will have to pay taxes on the amount that they were unable to deduct. Also, if they aren't planning on trying to negotiate this settlement personally, they will need to enlist a lawyer, who will want their own chunk of any settlement. So they have to hope that the trustee will settle for (GRANT_SIZE - AMOUNT_SPENT - TAXES_OWED - LAWYER'S_FEES), as they will face financial ruin otherwise.

(3) The bankruptcy trustee, who might otherwise have been perfectly happy to settle for that amount, thinks they can do better, because they have the statement that grantee provided in (1) to wave around in court.  Grantee has a much harder time arguing in court that they do not legally and morally owe this creditor GRANT_SIZE, given that the bankruptcy trustee has a document in grantee's own words seeming to imply that grantee themselves believes they do legally and morally owe this amount. By the way, the creditor the bankruptcy trustee represents is not an original FTX retail or institutional investor at all, but is instead a Wall Street firm that has bought up FTX customers' bankruptcy rights for pennies on the dollar, looking to turn a profit: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/18/business/ftx-assets-wall-street.html  . In the end, the grantee might face bankruptcy.

The risks are clearest for individuals. Not sure to what degree an EA community statement similar to (1) would raise analogous risks for grantees or the community as a whole, I don't really have the legal background to know how such a statement might wind up being deployed in court.

Fully agree that just continuing on with some prior plan to deploy the funds seems like a bad idea.

If anyone has the means to do this, act quickly: funds not spent by Dec 31 (which might be deductible if spent before then) are likely to be taxed as income in the US, to the best of my knowledge.

That said, this seems hard due to correlated risks: if a few clawbacks happen, then probably many do. Amy would need to have a high level of trust that Bill could and would pay out if this happened without going bankrupt himself.

Jason has made a  comments on this issue with a number of points worth considering; I found this thread particularly eye-opening. I came away feeling that the risk of clawbacks shouldn't be ignored.

Geoffrey Miller also made the important point that "if there are any legal 'clawbacks' of money in the future, that would have to be done through official legal channels -- and they might not care that we've already sent money back somewhere for allegedly honorable reasons. So we might end up returning a bunch of money, and then being legally obligated to return the same amount again, and also being required to pay income tax on whatever we first received."

More useful information at Tyrone-Jay's comment here including a note that from Molly that OP intends to share information from its external counsel about clawbacks very shortly

I'd say people with unspent funds should pay close attention to what OP has to say in the coming days. 

Molly suggests that "generally FTX grantees should avoid spending additional $$ on legal advice about this just yet" before reading what OP has to say on the topic, which seems fair enough. But I suspect some people with significant amount of unspent funds may ultimately want to seek legal advice sometime between now and the end of the year. 

For individuals, my understanding is that unspent funds that are still on one's books at the end of 31 Dec may count as "profits" and be taxed accordingly, so "just never spend any of the money" may be difficult in practice.