The New York Times recently obtained a collection of writings from Sam Bankman-Fried, allegedly written during his time under house arrest. While the most intriguing parts have yet to be released, including a lengthy Twitter thread where he supposedly shares his perspective on the failure of his business, there are notable quotes and details that provide insight into SBF’s mindset before and after the collapse of his cryptocurrency empire.
One striking aspect is Bankman-Fried’s refusal to accept any responsibility for what occurred, or even acknowledge the disappearance of $8 billion, the loss of people’s life savings, or the possibility of spending years in prison. Surprisingly, his biggest regret seems to revolve around his tarnished public image, as if the ongoing court hearings and bankruptcy proceedings are mere distractions from his envisioned life as a revered and influential figure.
It should be noted that the New York Times did not provide the true context of when or why Bankman-Fried wrote these words, as they were leaked from his personal diary. Nevertheless, it is astonishingly self-centered for someone to express feeling broke after causing immense financial losses for countless individuals.
Indeed, Bankman-Fried’s extravagant lifestyle crumbled alongside his company, despite his public persona as a modest billionaire who drove a Toyota Corolla. This further exemplifies how his reputation was a facade.
Even more disconcerting is his reported statement, “And the truth is that I did what I thought was right.” When combined with the previous quote, it reflects the same mentality of justifying the means by the ends that initially led Bankman-Fried into trouble.
There has been much discussion about Bankman-Fried’s brand of “effective altruism” and the ineffectiveness of individuals who prioritize profit and believe they can make a greater impact by deciding how to distribute their wealth. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article about Bankman-Fried’s parents, Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried, both Stanford Law School professors, highlights how certain philosophies run in the family.
Bankman and Fried supported their son throughout his rise to fame and continue to do so despite the turmoil he has caused, even though he jeopardized their multi-million dollar property by violating his bail conditions. Bankman reportedly attended FTX meetings and provided tax advice, acting as a sounding board for his son’s decision-making process.
If Bankman-Fried inherited his “business sense” from his father, it appears he also adopted his mother’s ethical framework. Bankman-Fried is renowned as a consequentialist philosopher, someone who ponders ethical dilemmas like the Trolley Problem, which explores whether it is better to let a train run over one person or actively cause the deaths of many by pulling a lever.
Thus, it seems that Bankman-Fried and his family aimed to do good, with his younger brother Gabe running a charitable organization funded primarily by FTX funds. Gabe even fantasized about purchasing a private island for cutting-edge research on extending human lifespans. However, one would expect consequentialists to genuinely consider the consequences of their actions. Were the luxurious vacation properties in the Bahamas always the ultimate objective?
In summary, the leaked writings from Sam Bankman-Fried shed light on his mindset before and after the collapse of his crypto empire. They reveal a lack of accountability, a preoccupation with personal image, and a family background that may have influenced his ethical perspective.