An interview with FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, one of the biggest donors to Joe Biden.



One of many individuals who Joe Biden ought to thank for turning into president is a 28-year-old cryptocurrency zealot who sleeps on an workplace beanbag chair most nights, believes companies focus an excessive amount of on social duty, and has, seemingly out of nowhere, turn into value $10 billion.
That is Sam Bankman-Fried, who represents a brand new breed of entrepreneurs who assume obsessively — and, at instances, counterintuitively — concerning the worth of turning into wealthy. Their civic-mindedness doesn’t lead them into do-gooder careers, however into earn-earn-earn careers the place they’ll maximize their fortunes. And Bankman-Fried has ridden the crypto growth to kind of examine off half one among his two-part plan, which works like this:
Make an amazing amount of cash by any means mandatory. Then give all of it away by the very best means potential. (Properly, what he doesn’t spend.)
The founding father of a quickly rising startup known as FTX, which provides a platform for individuals to purchase and promote cryptocurrencies, Bankman-Fried now considers $10 billion a “affordable” estimate of his wealth and progress up to now.
However he minimize a low profile till final 12 months, solely identified actually in crypto circles and amongst efficient altruists, a group of philanthropists and believers who assume that time and money ought to be donated not based mostly on private curiosity however on the tasks which are confirmed by knowledge to be the simplest at serving to individuals. However Bankman-Fried turned heads during the last 12 months when he turned one among Silicon Valley’s greatest contributors to teams supporting Joe Biden, at the least when it comes to disclosed giving. He donated about as a lot to Democrats as did well-known tech titans like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt or Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
Why did he achieve this a lot for Biden, somebody he has by no means met? Properly, as a result of he stated he crunched the numbers on how a lot influence every greenback would have if he donated it. That’s the identical method that led him to get entangled with Thoughts the Hole, a data-driven donor group very talked-about in Silicon Valley led by his mom, Stanford professor Barbara Fried.
And but he’s a novel liberal megadonor. Whereas many liberals need to concentrate on how billionaires can exacerbate inequality, Bankman-Fried desires to concentrate on how billionaires can maximize their winnings.

The next interview has been edited for size and readability.
Theodore Schleifer
Is your goal while you’re excited about the corporate, or excited about simply your work basically, nonetheless simply to maximise web value?
Sam Bankman-Fried
I believe the reply is nearer to sure than no. The core plan continues to be, finally, donate as a lot as I can, after which most of what I’m going to do now that issues is maximizing the quantity that I could make that may result in that.
Theodore Schleifer
Your perspective continues to be that one of the best ways to attain change is to generate profits in part one, after which give it away in part two. And I’m curious, as a result of that’s perhaps sort of crass, but it surely’s additionally probably not according to numerous Silicon Valley company social duty programming. Entities just like the Enterprise Roundtable say that operating a enterprise is just not all about maximizing shareholder worth, which is one other means of claiming it’s not all about getting wealthy. It’s honest to say you disagree with that form of considering?
Sam Bankman-Fried
I disagree that it’s one of the best ways to assume. Now, I believe it’s higher than what may be the choice in a few of these circumstances, which might be maximizing shareholder worth with no eye towards long-term making the world a greater place. I believe it’s higher than nothing. I believe basically, doing good is sweet, nevertheless it comes.
However what I believe extra strongly than that’s that if you wish to attempt to do as a lot good as you may, it’s normally not the very best resolution to attempt to take this form of middle-of-the-road [approach] — attempt to make some cash, but in addition attempt to do some good with the job — and that you simply simply do worse than selecting one or the opposite.
If what you’re making an attempt to do is donate, you must make as a lot as you may and provides as a lot as you may. And if what you’re making an attempt to do is have direct influence — not by means of donations — then you must take into consideration what profession permits you to have probably the most direct influence and go straight to that.
Theodore Schleifer
You’re form of an unabashed capitalist, proper? You imagine that individuals ought to generate profits. I write about billionaires in America, and there’s a lot of shyness about wealth. Even the thought of being a billionaire is just not one thing that individuals actually need to essentially acknowledge. Even the phrase “billionaire” has turn into charged in a bizarre means.
Sam Bankman-Fried
Oh, completely. It completely has.
I believe I really feel extra comfy with [talking about wealth] in some senses than I in any other case would due to the donations.
Partially, it simply offers me a factor to say. However the factor about efficient altruism, about donating, is that ultimately it doesn’t matter who does it. It issues the place it goes and what it accomplishes. However it doesn’t matter if it’s me who does it or if it’s another person. So I believe it softens the notion of wealth in some methods. Not in others. However I believe there’s some methods through which it does, as a result of it removes a number of the private and particular person significance of it. And as an alternative the main focus is on what it will probably accomplish.
Theodore Schleifer
So that you give $5 million to Future Ahead. You turn into at the least one of many greatest disclosed donors within the nation. Did that shock you?
Sam Bankman-Fried
It nonetheless shocks me that the world is such that that’s true, although I form of knew in all chance that’s the way it was. It’s a very weird truth. And that shouldn’t be true.
My prior [belief], if I didn’t know something about this, would have been that there’d be at the least one individual giving like $5 billion to $10 billion per [election] cycle. And there’d be a bunch giving $100 million to $500 million and a shit ton giving $10 million and that $1 million could be like quantity 300 or one thing. And it’s stunning to me — and stays fairly stunning to me — how not true that’s.
The considered being somebody who has $50 billion of fully liquid wealth that’s simply been sitting there for years and also you don’t discover something to do with $100 million of it in an enormous second? That’s clearly an infinite quantity for most individuals. However for some individuals within the nation, that’s a rounding error.
Theodore Schleifer
I’m curious to listen to how you considered that as an efficient altruist. How did you consider doing probably the most good along with your cash and the way did eliminating Trump determine into that? “I’m going to place $7 million or $8 million behind this” — fairly than, say, eliminating manufacturing unit farming or any of the opposite causes which are necessary to you? How did you examine eliminating Trump towards different worthy investments?
Sam Bankman-Fried
My objective is simply to learn the way I can do probably the most good. And I had a protracted record of issues to take a look at, at the least briefly. And politics has at all times been on that record, and I’ve been pretty skeptical of it.
It form of had the hallmarks of one thing that will be simply overcrowded, not that impactful, and like a lure for {dollars} basically. And in order that’s the best way I assumed earlier than wanting into it.
Theodore Schleifer
Did you examine donating to a brilliant PAC to those different causes on a dollar-per-dollar, pound-per-pound scale?
Sam Bankman-Fried
Yeah. So as soon as I had gotten to the purpose of like, “Oh, wow, that is surprisingly impactful,” then it’s like “All proper, I ought to really do that calculation.”
How impactful is it who wins a specific election, notably the presidency on this case? And the way a lot influence does $1 have on that?
What would have extra influence on the world? X variety of factory-farmed animals being saved or some variety of lives saved from malaria? Versus one thing on the size of the presidency of the USA?
There are numerous methods to consider this. A technique you may give it some thought is the finances. Possibly you assume one candidate will spend the finances 10 % higher than the opposite. The finances is at this level $20 trillion over the course of a presidency. And so that provides you a number of trillion {dollars} as an estimate.
Now, clearly, that’s form of foolish in some sense as a result of it’s ignoring any a part of the presidency that isn’t the finances. However it’s additionally assuming that the president can really determine what goes within the finances — clearly they aren’t the one prepare dinner within the kitchen on that. However that provides you some method: All proper, that is the variety of {dollars} of influence that you may have by means of doing this.
Theodore Schleifer
Is that what you probably did?
Sam Bankman-Fried
Yeah, and I don’t assume that’s precisely the factor I care about. However it was a solution to begin to get a grip on what the size of this was, and at the least one try to estimate the influence.
Theodore Schleifer
Regardless that you might be one among Biden’s greatest donors, I assume he doesn’t know who you might be, which is a bizarre phenomenon.
Sam Bankman-Fried
It’s a bizarre phenomenon.
The place I might be most helpful to him is — I don’t assume Biden’s ever going to place a lot thought into it — but when [the administration] is ever in search of like an knowledgeable on crypto regulation …
He’s clearly an extremely busy man and I would love to satisfy him — but in addition don’t need him to have to satisfy me in some senses, except I or he had some cause to assume that it might be priceless.
Theodore Schleifer
So that you’ve by no means met him, although you’re one of many individuals who is among the many most chargeable for him being in workplace.
Sam Bankman-Fried
Yep.
Theodore Schleifer
Your plan is to present away all of your cash in your lifetime? Or what’s your endgame, as of age 28?
Sam Bankman-Fried
That’s the plan.
Theodore Schleifer
One of many huge criticisms of efficient altruism is that it doesn’t contemplate race sufficient relating to what to fund. And I’m wondering the way you reckon with that as somebody who has received some huge cash and will do numerous good with it.
Sam Bankman-Fried
A variety of what I take into consideration are probably the most uncared for areas, as a result of these are usually the areas that there’s not going to be anybody else taking a look at. And so I’ll are likely to concentrate on areas which have quite a bit much less of a public presence.
After which one factor that I do assume is an enormous blind spot — to an entire lot of individuals — is totally different international locations and continents. And one factor that lots of people miss is the large quantity of excellent that you are able to do in Africa, as an illustration.
That’s the place probably the most underserved globally are and the place there’s an entire lot of lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to having the ability to make individuals’s lives higher.
Theodore Schleifer
So that you’re making an attempt to consider what’s underserved. Is it honest to say that you simply’re not coming to this with a race-based prism on philanthropy?
Sam Bankman-Fried
I’m not wanting explicitly in these phrases. However, you already know, I do assume that being underserved can usually be a fairly respectable invitation of it being the correct place to assist.
Theodore Schleifer
Very last thing. While you see, as an illustration, that some wealthy individual has given some huge cash to Stanford or to Oxford, what’s your response?
Sam Bankman-Fried
I form of have two reactions abruptly. One in all which is like, “Aw, come on. Like actually? That’s the place you’re giving it? You assume that’s the place the place you are able to do probably the most good on this planet?” And it appears so implausible. And it’s midway between a donation and just a few bizarre form of consumption for wealthy individuals.
However on the identical time, I additionally form of have the response of like, “I’m in all probability happier that they did that than in the event that they didn’t give something.” And other people by no means shit on the random wealthy dude who by no means offers something. They form of get off scot-free.
Theodore Schleifer
Properly, generally they do.
Sam Bankman-Fried
Typically they do. However I really feel somewhat bit uncomfortable if I find yourself being harsher on the individuals who give ineffectively than the individuals who give by no means. And I don’t precisely know the right way to reconcile these two.
Theodore Schleifer
There’s a broader backlash to huge philanthropy, one which I’ve written about quite a bit. Some individuals really feel it discourages any donations in any respect. And the query is, “Properly, what ought to they do as an alternative? Go purchase a yacht?”
Sam Bankman-Fried
Precisely. And that’s how I find yourself feeling. I don’t need to be the one to encourage an indiscriminate backlash towards philanthropy. So I find yourself simply feeling like, “No matter. You possibly can ignore this and deal with it the identical as if it had been consumption.”



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