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Sam Bankman-Fried’s elitist altruism Billionaires signal virtue to avoid paying tax

The superhero we don't need (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)


November 23, 2022   6 mins

Elizabeth Holmes dressed in the same style every day: black turtleneck sweater, black slacks, and black low-slung shoes. This “uniform” underlined her deified status as a busy billionaire dedicated to changing the world, setting her apart from mere mortals with time to choose their clothes. “My mom had me in black turtlenecks when I was, like, eight,” she told one women’s magazine. “I probably have 150 of these. It makes it easy, because every day you put on the same thing and don’t have to think about it — one less thing in your life. All my focus is on the work. I take it so seriously; I’m sure that translates into how I dress.”

Yet this story of her image, like the blood-test technology that won her fame and fortune, was fake. One former colleague later revealed how a “frumpy” Holmes had adopted the look to mimic the signature style of Steve Jobs, even tracking down the exact Issey Miyake turtleneck favoured by the Apple founder. Her pose as a cool, black-clad genius worked for a while, fooling some of the best-known financiers and public figures in the United States. Then it had to be ditched in favour of dull suits to appear in court for fraud. And soon will switch to dowdy prison scrubs after her conviction and 11-year sentence.

Silicon Valley superstars love to embrace a simple style. Rich enough to buy anything in the world and puffed up with self-importance, they use clothing to send out the message that they are too important to waste their precious intellect and time on deciding what to wear every day. “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” said Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg when quizzed about his uniform of grey T-shirts and blue jeans. (This is, lest we forget, the man who set up a website to rank attractive women at university that exploded into one of the planet’s most pernicious companies.)

Sam Bankman-Fried also tapped into this approach: he presented himself as a financial prodigy who disdained societal mores while set on saving the world. He went for the scruffy skateboarder look, a man-child with an unkempt bubble of hair who even wore his T-shirt, shorts and sneakers when sitting on stage next to a former US president and a former British prime minister.

It is no surprise that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair fell for such a phoney. Yet they weren’t the only ones suckered by this high priest of cryptocurrency, who preached of earning billions through his unique financial acumen, promised to pour the money into philanthropy, and then crashed to earth with his fortune evaporating. “SBF” championed a modish millennial approach to philanthropy, that claims to harness data, in tandem with supreme brainpower, moral leadership and relentless logic to improve the cost-efficiency of charity and tackle state failures. But his downfall has exposed the hollowness at the heart of this cult that has become as much part of Silicon Valley’s uniformity as their T-shirts and turtlenecks.

The astonishing rise and fall of the disgraced crypto king began over a meal with William MacAskill, a prominent young Oxford University philosopher. This Scottish professor, guru of the effective altruism movement, persuaded the vegan SBF, then a student, to forget about devoting his life to animal welfare and instead focus on making as much money as possible for donation to good causes. So SBF duly set out to become mega-rich, ostensibly on the basis that this would let him do as much good as possible in the world, and he seduced admirers and investors alike with his sense of mission while pouring money into MacAskill’s own projects.

Effective altruism draws its inspiration from Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher. He contends that the moral obligation to save children from hunger in a famine is no different from that of saving a child you saw drowning before you. Unfortunately, so radical and inhumane is his stance that he ends up as an eugenicist: the lives of those with disabilities are of less value, he argues, and so killing babies born with disabilities is ethically permissible. Singer is relentlessly utilitarian.

Yet his arguments lie at the root of this movement so beloved by Silicon Valley billionaires since it justifies their accumulation of great wealth on grounds that it can end up doing great good. Now, though, leading devotee Dustin Moskovitz, another of the Facebook founders, has acknowledged that effective altruism either encouraged or excused SBF’s unethical — and almost certainly criminal — behaviour. Even MacAskill, whose organisations received big donations from his shamed protege’s operations, admits he was wrong to dismiss fears that his philosophy might be “misused” to cause harm. Their church of benevolence became cover for a giant crypto-scam.

This cult of ultra-rationalism implies that it is morally better to get rich than to slave away in a badly-paid job that might be socially useful. Essentially, it tells people to work in the City rather than a care home, demeaning those who believe in public service or actually helping other human beings rather than piling up mountains of cash in tax-efficient havens to give away to their pet causes. Critics such as Timothy Noah have noted how it ignores issues such as economic inequality since its “most distinctive characteristic” was the “deftness with which it tiptoes past targets likely to offend billionaires”.

Some key adherents — including MacAskill — have since moved on to “long-termism”, an ideology aiming to save us from future threats such as artificial intelligence, rather than more prosaic ideas such as funding mosquito nets to save lives of existing human beings from malaria. Their argument is that if all lives have equal value wherever they are, that should extend to whenever they are around. “The things that matter most are the things that have long-term impact on what the world will look like,” said Bankman-Fried last year. “There are trillions of people who have not yet been born.” 

It is, of course, impossible to apply data and accountability to the future. In reality, it seems that SBF used this pretence of doing good to provide cover for a giant pyramid scheme, pretending ends justified means while he hung out with his clique overseeing a crypto con at a $40m mansion in the tax haven of the Bahamas. “You were really good at talking about ethics for someone who kind of saw it all as a game with winners and losers,” said a Vox reporter last week after his empire had fallen. “Ya, hehe
 I feel bad for those who get fucked by it,” he responded, admitting “the ethics stuff” was mostly a front and talking of a “dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shiboleths [sic] so everyone likes us”.

SBF was also the second-biggest donor to Joe Biden and the Democrats last year, handing over $37 million. Yet his veneer as a do-gooder slipped when the President’s party flirted with a wealth tax for the super-rich — who often end up paying proportionately far less to the state than fellow citizens due to armies of highly-paid accountants shifting their assets around the globe. He told the New York Times that “this could cause hugely negative collateral damage, significantly reducing the amount of innovation and taxable base in the first place”.  Elon Musk, who might have been hit for ÂŁ50 billion, chimed in with a warning that this might hamper his long-termist plan “to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness”.

The downfall of SBF should send a stark warning to be wary of self-appointed prophets who think their wealth has given them special gifts to solve the problems of humanity. These tycoons are often little better than the robber-barons of old who used charity to atone for their rapaciousness in business — but only after becoming immensely wealthy. Note how Jeff Bezos has joined the ranks of those billionaires such as Zuckerberg and SBF pledging to give away much of their fortunes. It is a welcome trend but it reeks of hypocrisy, given that it would be so much better if the ultra-rich simply played by the same rules as the rest of us, ensuring at least that their firms pay a fair share of tax. Even that secular saint Bill Gates is not immune to such criticism when Microsoft became a case study in tax avoidance for the Senate during his reign.

Ultimately, these prophets of elitist altruism proclaim a specious and self-serving creed: they create giant fortunes by running firms exploiting their digital revolution to dodge tax and evade national borders, then bask in the glow of adulation for their philanthropy having subverted democracies, slashed government revenues and thus weakened state services. Finally, they claim to be the best people to solve some of the most pressing societal issues — although only the ones they decide to tackle on their own terms, rather than more unfashionable ones such as filling roads, funding soldiers or fashioning support for the vulnerable.

Canada’s finance minister Chrystia Freeland provided a glimpse into such attitudes a decade ago before she abandoned journalism for politics, writing a superb book called Plutocrats that exposed how a smug elite dictate public discourse and demand a system tilted even more in their favour. One billionaire Republican donor she interviewed even argued for the abolition of most taxes, praising how the super-rich “self-taxed” themselves by supporting charities of their choice rather than funding government. He demanded the state should pay tech tycoons for their contributions to society. “It’s that top 1% that probably contributes more to making the world a better place than the 99%,” he concluded, outrageously.

Many people yearn for superheroes, visionaries and wunderkinds to offer hope of salvation on a complex, messy planet. But altruism built on avarice is simply a comfort blanket for billionaires. Behind the stylised images, the sci-fi sheen of technology, the bold claims to have remodelled philanthropy, the arrogant insistence some people are so important they should be spared taxes, lies the same hubristic mentality that tarnished the aid industry. It is based on the cynical idea that a small, superior and wealthy elite knows best — and that they should not be thwarted in their drive to earn billions since they are indisputably the good guys. As two new age messiahs stumble and fall, we ought to be more sceptical over billionaire geeks posing as god-like saviours and show a bit more faith in our communal ability to resolve serious problems.


Ian Birrell is an award-winning foreign reporter and columnist. He is also the founder, with Damon Albarn, of Africa Express.

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Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

Isn’t this just another manifestation of the globalist disease: avowing enormous compassion towards people you don’t know and know nothing about whilst completely ignoring, even despising, your own immediate neighbours.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Dickens satirises the type in Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House who neglects her children and bankrupts her family in the name of charity towards an African country whose ruler in fact has no interest in the charitable scheme she wants to promote. The world is still full of Mrs Jellybys.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Bray
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Laughed out loud at that, given the author’s organization.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Laughed out loud at that, given the author’s organization.

John 0
John 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Not completely — there is a frat here that is quite self-serving.

DenialARiverIn Islington
DenialARiverIn Islington
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

No. What he’s actually saying, all fraudsters and conmen aside, is that we should appreciate what our thought leaders (such as, ahem, himself) say; and not what our achievers (such as, ahem, myself) do. Fortunately, I am neither compelled to listen to him nor persuaded to do so, having witnessed time-after-time the effectiveness in action of our politicians, journalists and lecturers.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Enormous false compassion in your own self aggrandizing and self promoting interests as a great white savior to the huddled dark skinned masses.

Rob Butler
Rob Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

It’s not just billionaire plutocrats who fall for this disease. Many reside in the upper echelons of the Public & 3rd Sectors. They wrap themselves in the shroud of strangers misfortune to extract lucrative salaries & pension, with little or no practical accountability, whilst emitting a warm glow of smug self satisfaction. All the while they dispense unearned “public wealth” ,ie people’s taxes, to help “ others”, about whom they know or care little about. Those who live off the teat of the welfare state will always vote for more milk.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Dickens satirises the type in Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House who neglects her children and bankrupts her family in the name of charity towards an African country whose ruler in fact has no interest in the charitable scheme she wants to promote. The world is still full of Mrs Jellybys.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Bray
John 0
John 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Not completely — there is a frat here that is quite self-serving.

DenialARiverIn Islington
DenialARiverIn Islington
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

No. What he’s actually saying, all fraudsters and conmen aside, is that we should appreciate what our thought leaders (such as, ahem, himself) say; and not what our achievers (such as, ahem, myself) do. Fortunately, I am neither compelled to listen to him nor persuaded to do so, having witnessed time-after-time the effectiveness in action of our politicians, journalists and lecturers.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Enormous false compassion in your own self aggrandizing and self promoting interests as a great white savior to the huddled dark skinned masses.

Rob Butler
Rob Butler
1 year ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

It’s not just billionaire plutocrats who fall for this disease. Many reside in the upper echelons of the Public & 3rd Sectors. They wrap themselves in the shroud of strangers misfortune to extract lucrative salaries & pension, with little or no practical accountability, whilst emitting a warm glow of smug self satisfaction. All the while they dispense unearned “public wealth” ,ie people’s taxes, to help “ others”, about whom they know or care little about. Those who live off the teat of the welfare state will always vote for more milk.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 year ago

Isn’t this just another manifestation of the globalist disease: avowing enormous compassion towards people you don’t know and know nothing about whilst completely ignoring, even despising, your own immediate neighbours.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

So what’s new? From Gilded Age robber barons putting on a show of philanthropy to modern CEO’s putting BLM slogans in their Twitter handle to avoid paying their minority workers a decent wage, it is the same grift in a different decade. Anyone else want to throw these criminals in jail and jam some anti-trust regulation down these corporations’ throats?

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt Hindman
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Here here. Unfortunately it took a Great Depression, the rise of Communism, and a world war to finally pry the hands of elites off the levers of power enough for FDR to come to power and get the New Deal passed, and then it took another world war that left Europe a broken and divided mess to further cement the power of the American middle class. It will probably take something similarly catastrophic, or worse, to dislodge the aristocrats of today.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

The New Deal was a failure and all FDR did was install a form of corporate socialism where the corporate elite could rely on the US tax dollar to permanently insulate them from the harsh winds of competition.
As to cementing the power of the middle class, that was down to the spoils of war that put the US in an unassailable position to exploit the rest of the world. The US is not the fist nation to mistake the spoils of war for the rewards of virtue.

Johnathan Galt
Johnathan Galt
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Someone swallowed the Kool-aid. FDR’s “New Deal” put us back into the bonds we had as a nation once escaped. You can never increase Liberty through theft.

David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I think you are confused. FDR and his whole cabinet were part of the elite. The New Deal extended elite control from finance and commerce into the government, spawning a host of new positions for unelected elitists to occupy, insulated from answering to the electorate.

renemartin121
renemartin121
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Where where?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

The New Deal was a failure and all FDR did was install a form of corporate socialism where the corporate elite could rely on the US tax dollar to permanently insulate them from the harsh winds of competition.
As to cementing the power of the middle class, that was down to the spoils of war that put the US in an unassailable position to exploit the rest of the world. The US is not the fist nation to mistake the spoils of war for the rewards of virtue.

Johnathan Galt
Johnathan Galt
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Someone swallowed the Kool-aid. FDR’s “New Deal” put us back into the bonds we had as a nation once escaped. You can never increase Liberty through theft.

David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

I think you are confused. FDR and his whole cabinet were part of the elite. The New Deal extended elite control from finance and commerce into the government, spawning a host of new positions for unelected elitists to occupy, insulated from answering to the electorate.

renemartin121
renemartin121
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Where where?

Jim Davis
Jim Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Dr. Thomas Sowell wrote about this way back in 1995. The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. Highly recommended. https://www.amazon.com/Vision-Anointed-Self-Congratulation-Social-Policy/dp/046508995X

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Davis

This springs to mind The Widow’s Offering
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, â€œTruly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Phil Mitchell
Phil Mitchell
1 year ago

Excellent post. However, to embrace this teaching one needs to believe in the biblical God of Western civilization. Alas, that belief has disappeared from the “annointed” and much of the populace.

David S Sachdev
David S Sachdev
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Mitchell

If the teaching has merits, those merits are unlikely only perceptible to those whose faculties are saddled with a belief in the biblical God

David S Sachdev
David S Sachdev
1 year ago
Reply to  Phil Mitchell

If the teaching has merits, those merits are unlikely only perceptible to those whose faculties are saddled with a belief in the biblical God

Phil Mitchell
Phil Mitchell
1 year ago

Excellent post. However, to embrace this teaching one needs to believe in the biblical God of Western civilization. Alas, that belief has disappeared from the “annointed” and much of the populace.

Stoater D
Stoater D
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Davis

I have this book, just started it.

Johnathan Galt
Johnathan Galt
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Davis

Anything by Sowell is highly recommended.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Davis

This springs to mind The Widow’s Offering
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, â€œTruly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Stoater D
Stoater D
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Davis

I have this book, just started it.

Johnathan Galt
Johnathan Galt
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Davis

Anything by Sowell is highly recommended.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

“Robber baron” Andrew Carnegie gave the US over 2500 libraries. In fact, most of the Gilded Age mega rich donated 90% of their wealth to real charities that benefitted countless people in tangible ways. Was it a “show”? Who cares? It was palpable net positive compared to, say, Leonard Bernstein throwing a party for the Black Panthers so Manhattan swells could brag about it (like Tony Soprano’s snotty neighbors inviting him to the club for a round of golf).
In any case, this Fried character certainly didn’t cook up the scheme on his own. That most of his money (or whatever it was) went to Democrat politicians reveals him to be just another component in the corruption machine the gullible call government.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Here here. Unfortunately it took a Great Depression, the rise of Communism, and a world war to finally pry the hands of elites off the levers of power enough for FDR to come to power and get the New Deal passed, and then it took another world war that left Europe a broken and divided mess to further cement the power of the American middle class. It will probably take something similarly catastrophic, or worse, to dislodge the aristocrats of today.

Jim Davis
Jim Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Dr. Thomas Sowell wrote about this way back in 1995. The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. Highly recommended. https://www.amazon.com/Vision-Anointed-Self-Congratulation-Social-Policy/dp/046508995X

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

“Robber baron” Andrew Carnegie gave the US over 2500 libraries. In fact, most of the Gilded Age mega rich donated 90% of their wealth to real charities that benefitted countless people in tangible ways. Was it a “show”? Who cares? It was palpable net positive compared to, say, Leonard Bernstein throwing a party for the Black Panthers so Manhattan swells could brag about it (like Tony Soprano’s snotty neighbors inviting him to the club for a round of golf).
In any case, this Fried character certainly didn’t cook up the scheme on his own. That most of his money (or whatever it was) went to Democrat politicians reveals him to be just another component in the corruption machine the gullible call government.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

So what’s new? From Gilded Age robber barons putting on a show of philanthropy to modern CEO’s putting BLM slogans in their Twitter handle to avoid paying their minority workers a decent wage, it is the same grift in a different decade. Anyone else want to throw these criminals in jail and jam some anti-trust regulation down these corporations’ throats?

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt Hindman
William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago

One example of long term altruism by the filthy rich, which might be an exception to the embarrassing examples of SBF and Elizabeth Holmes, is the Fuggerai in Augsburg. Jacob Fugger was a banker to both the Vatican and the Hapsburgs and was plainly not short of a guilder or two. 500 years later his foundation still provides social housing for the equivalent of a guilder a year – less than one euro. But you have to be Catholic and say a daily prayer for the repose of Jacob’s soul. The foundation’s assets are invested in property such as forestry which provides a low annual yield, but goes on indefinitely, unlike the latest hi tech. And it is good for the environment.

And the ancient housing has accumulated history of its own – Mozart’s great grandfather was a resident.

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago

One example of long term altruism by the filthy rich, which might be an exception to the embarrassing examples of SBF and Elizabeth Holmes, is the Fuggerai in Augsburg. Jacob Fugger was a banker to both the Vatican and the Hapsburgs and was plainly not short of a guilder or two. 500 years later his foundation still provides social housing for the equivalent of a guilder a year – less than one euro. But you have to be Catholic and say a daily prayer for the repose of Jacob’s soul. The foundation’s assets are invested in property such as forestry which provides a low annual yield, but goes on indefinitely, unlike the latest hi tech. And it is good for the environment.

And the ancient housing has accumulated history of its own – Mozart’s great grandfather was a resident.

Johnathan Galt
Johnathan Galt
1 year ago

All altruism is evil, because all altruism is a lie. All human action is motivated by self interest. Even if giving to others, people do it because they either want to be seen as generous, or they derive a sense of satisfaction from it, or other even less altruistic motives.
More telling are those who CLAIM altruism. These always have insidious motives.

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
1 year ago
Reply to  Johnathan Galt

Interesting comment. I think I mostly agree with the sentiment. Perfect altruism is impossible with the exception of Christ or times the Holy Spirit enables people.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  Johnathan Galt

yes, 100%. if you want to do something for someone, then do it. when you talk about it, you betray your motive.

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
1 year ago
Reply to  Johnathan Galt

Interesting comment. I think I mostly agree with the sentiment. Perfect altruism is impossible with the exception of Christ or times the Holy Spirit enables people.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  Johnathan Galt

yes, 100%. if you want to do something for someone, then do it. when you talk about it, you betray your motive.

Johnathan Galt
Johnathan Galt
1 year ago

All altruism is evil, because all altruism is a lie. All human action is motivated by self interest. Even if giving to others, people do it because they either want to be seen as generous, or they derive a sense of satisfaction from it, or other even less altruistic motives.
More telling are those who CLAIM altruism. These always have insidious motives.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago

I get the bit about SBF, but who’s the second “new age messiah”? Please tell me you’re not talking about Musk. Putting him and this con-man in the same article is like putting filet mignon on moldy bread. And serving it on a silver platter.

Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

I believe he is referring the Elizabeth Holmes as the second “new age Messiah”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Scott Wilson
harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

He was talking about Holmes, I believe.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

I’m afraid that, not being particularly interested in “new age messiahs”, that passed me by.
Who really cares about these people? Its all just tabloid gossip.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

(But only in a tiny portion.)

Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

I believe he is referring the Elizabeth Holmes as the second “new age Messiah”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Scott Wilson
harry storm
harry storm
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

He was talking about Holmes, I believe.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

I’m afraid that, not being particularly interested in “new age messiahs”, that passed me by.
Who really cares about these people? Its all just tabloid gossip.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
1 year ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

(But only in a tiny portion.)

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 year ago

I get the bit about SBF, but who’s the second “new age messiah”? Please tell me you’re not talking about Musk. Putting him and this con-man in the same article is like putting filet mignon on moldy bread. And serving it on a silver platter.

Tyler Keller
Tyler Keller
1 year ago

Asia for the Asians, Africa for the Africans, White countries for EVERYBODY!
Massive immigration and FORCED assimilation is called GENOCIDE when it’s done in Tibet.
When it’s done in White countries, it’s called “diversity.”
Diversity is a code word for White Genocide.

Tyler Keller
Tyler Keller
1 year ago

Asia for the Asians, Africa for the Africans, White countries for EVERYBODY!
Massive immigration and FORCED assimilation is called GENOCIDE when it’s done in Tibet.
When it’s done in White countries, it’s called “diversity.”
Diversity is a code word for White Genocide.

Kirk B
Kirk B
1 year ago

given that it would be so much better if the ultra-rich simply played by the same rules as the rest of us, ensuring at least that their firms pay a fair share of tax. 

Leaving it to people like the author to determine what the “fair share” might be.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Kirk B

I think most people would assume fair share to be paying the taxman the same percentage of their income as the ordinary worker does, unfortunately this rarely happens

Ron Vinsant
Ron Vinsant
1 year ago
Reply to  Kirk B

That is the problem. What is “fair share”?
The super rich already pay most of the taxes.
A presidential contender once said that 47% of workers pay no tax and was pilloried for it. It is however true.
Flat tax anyone?
Or would the ensuing layoff of investment advisors, tax accountants and lawyers be too much?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Kirk B

I think most people would assume fair share to be paying the taxman the same percentage of their income as the ordinary worker does, unfortunately this rarely happens

Ron Vinsant
Ron Vinsant
1 year ago
Reply to  Kirk B

That is the problem. What is “fair share”?
The super rich already pay most of the taxes.
A presidential contender once said that 47% of workers pay no tax and was pilloried for it. It is however true.
Flat tax anyone?
Or would the ensuing layoff of investment advisors, tax accountants and lawyers be too much?

Kirk B
Kirk B
1 year ago

given that it would be so much better if the ultra-rich simply played by the same rules as the rest of us, ensuring at least that their firms pay a fair share of tax. 

Leaving it to people like the author to determine what the “fair share” might be.

N T
N T
1 year ago

“It’s that top 1% that probably contributes more to making the world a better place than the 99%,” he concluded, outrageously.
But, they sort-of do, don’t they?

Last edited 1 year ago by N T
Mo Brown
Mo Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  N T

yes.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  N T

yes.

N T
N T
1 year ago

“It’s that top 1% that probably contributes more to making the world a better place than the 99%,” he concluded, outrageously.
But, they sort-of do, don’t they?

Last edited 1 year ago by N T
Philip Clayton
Philip Clayton
1 year ago

It was vomit making to listen to Bezos saying how difficult it was to do philanthropy Well he could start by paying his workers properly and allowing unionisation. Still Bezos may have a point. A decade ago Bill Gates vowed to give away his fortune. Then he was worth a paltry $38 Billion, now he is worth $105 BILLION. Strange that.

Philip Clayton
Philip Clayton
1 year ago

It was vomit making to listen to Bezos saying how difficult it was to do philanthropy Well he could start by paying his workers properly and allowing unionisation. Still Bezos may have a point. A decade ago Bill Gates vowed to give away his fortune. Then he was worth a paltry $38 Billion, now he is worth $105 BILLION. Strange that.

Roger le Clercq
Roger le Clercq
1 year ago

Well what motivates people to gather wealth? Power and Wealth both tend to corrupt but it is only once someone has reached the recognised level that they can be assessed from the morality standpoint. Interesting that the inclusion of the quote from Plutocrats (in the interest of balance?) uses the argument offered by an anonymous Republican billionaire.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

I thought the same was odd. We all clearly know that if SBF donated tens of millions to republicans, the headlines/narrative around the globe would be, “Corrupt Republican Donor’s FTX Empire Crashes, Leaving Millions Defrauded”

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

I thought the same was odd. We all clearly know that if SBF donated tens of millions to republicans, the headlines/narrative around the globe would be, “Corrupt Republican Donor’s FTX Empire Crashes, Leaving Millions Defrauded”

Roger le Clercq
Roger le Clercq
1 year ago

Well what motivates people to gather wealth? Power and Wealth both tend to corrupt but it is only once someone has reached the recognised level that they can be assessed from the morality standpoint. Interesting that the inclusion of the quote from Plutocrats (in the interest of balance?) uses the argument offered by an anonymous Republican billionaire.

mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago

I took decades and millions dead to get rid of SBF, Stringer and McCaskells’ ideaological ancestors who rose in the 1930s – this generation of demi gods don’t seem to have the same strength of will. I hope am not proved wrong!

mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago
Reply to  mike otter

Oops Singer – mixed him up with the legendary eponymous scrum-half

mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago
Reply to  mike otter

Oops Singer – mixed him up with the legendary eponymous scrum-half

mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago

I took decades and millions dead to get rid of SBF, Stringer and McCaskells’ ideaological ancestors who rose in the 1930s – this generation of demi gods don’t seem to have the same strength of will. I hope am not proved wrong!

Sidney Mysterious
Sidney Mysterious
1 year ago

He told you his name, who, and what he was. How dumb are you people?
Bankman “I will bank $$$ for myself.” Man, “One who does the deed.” Fried freed, let go, “Available to do what they wish.”

Sidney Mysterious
Sidney Mysterious
1 year ago

He told you his name, who, and what he was. How dumb are you people?
Bankman “I will bank $$$ for myself.” Man, “One who does the deed.” Fried freed, let go, “Available to do what they wish.”

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago

“As two new age messiahs stumble and fall, we ought to be more sceptical over billionaire geeks posing as god-like saviours”
I could not be more sceptcal thanks very much. Plenty of people knew SBF was phoney. Only greedy people and people who have not done their research before giving away their cash will lose money with such a BS scheme.

Su Mac
Su Mac
1 year ago

“As two new age messiahs stumble and fall, we ought to be more sceptical over billionaire geeks posing as god-like saviours”
I could not be more sceptcal thanks very much. Plenty of people knew SBF was phoney. Only greedy people and people who have not done their research before giving away their cash will lose money with such a BS scheme.

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
1 year ago

It’s very little to do with money.
The super-rich (and the wannabe super-rich) are riddled with guilt. They know, deep down, that they got lucky, or that the system was gamed in their favour. They know, deep down, that it’s not their talent or skill which got them there. So they feel incredibly GUILTY and feel they must ‘do good’ before it all disappears in a flash.
Of course, some do come to believe their own hype, and some are genuinely talented. But anything with the effective altruism stamp is just another form of woke virtue signalling. Except that the person they are really signalling to is themselves.

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
1 year ago

It’s very little to do with money.
The super-rich (and the wannabe super-rich) are riddled with guilt. They know, deep down, that they got lucky, or that the system was gamed in their favour. They know, deep down, that it’s not their talent or skill which got them there. So they feel incredibly GUILTY and feel they must ‘do good’ before it all disappears in a flash.
Of course, some do come to believe their own hype, and some are genuinely talented. But anything with the effective altruism stamp is just another form of woke virtue signalling. Except that the person they are really signalling to is themselves.

John Croteau
John Croteau
1 year ago

Elon Musk got it right when he responded to Elizabeth Warren’s plea for taxing billionaires. I’m far more confident in Elon putting his gains to good, charitable use rather than corrupt politicians like Liz who produced nothing of value to anyone.
Sure, success goes to their heads. Bill Gates is a monster. Elon created tremendous economic and societal value in Tesla and SpaceX, yet he lives a relatively modest life. Why is he suddenly compared to a fraud like SBF, who’s the opposite?
The time to tax Elon is when he dies, in his estate. Until then it’s just a money grab by people who think they know more than proven entrepreneurs how to put capital to good use.

John Croteau
John Croteau
1 year ago

Elon Musk got it right when he responded to Elizabeth Warren’s plea for taxing billionaires. I’m far more confident in Elon putting his gains to good, charitable use rather than corrupt politicians like Liz who produced nothing of value to anyone.
Sure, success goes to their heads. Bill Gates is a monster. Elon created tremendous economic and societal value in Tesla and SpaceX, yet he lives a relatively modest life. Why is he suddenly compared to a fraud like SBF, who’s the opposite?
The time to tax Elon is when he dies, in his estate. Until then it’s just a money grab by people who think they know more than proven entrepreneurs how to put capital to good use.

James P
James P
1 year ago

Lordy. Giving Canada’s Minister of Finance credit for being sharp on how evil the rich are is a joke. The government she works in has f**ked us citizens for the next few generations and she had played a big role in that. Ethically she is dirt. Bezos at least delivers is our books.

Buhle Solomon
Buhle Solomon
1 year ago

Wow this article is just one large smear piece. I really would not expect this from the author who I respected for consistently shining light on the counter-narrative to the origin of Covid. This article disappoints me.

Firstly, as I have commented in a previous article Effective Altruism (EA) is quite a large and diverse movement. Yes, it might lean-liberal and speak to issues that concern university-educated people but many people within it actually try very hard to identify its biases and correct them.

It is not a cult because some famous tech people identify with some of it’s causes. It’s an attempt to think about how one does good. This is very reasonable as indeed some charitable interventions are better than others.

Peter Singer’s argument about the drowning child does not lead one to eugenicist views of killing disabled babies. These are two separate arguments that he has made. You might hate him for the second one but that does not negate the first one. Debate the first one on its merits or that is just a smear, like saying the lab-leak theory is being promoted by people with racist/anti-Semitic views so it must just be dismissed.

The philosophy does not claim its morally bad to slave away in a job that’s useful. It argues one can do various different things and one should consider how they can have the biggest impact. Yes, it does say some very smart people may not have a significantly marginal impact on a given cause if they just did volunteer work that doesn’t utilize their brainy advantage. So instead one might earn to give. That is controversial and may give cover to tax avoidance as stated in the article but this is definitely not the only recommendation made. One also might build tech company or engineering companies that tackle the issues one cares about. Fintech startups like Wave in Kenya have been built by EA-aligned people trying to increase financial inclusion in Africa to create sustainable ways of dealing with poverty.

Social work opportunities and charity work are encouragd by EA. Members of the CEA, the admin body of the movement has a number of social workers. It’s just not for everybody. Again, this isn’t a very reasonable assertion.

It does ignore economic inequality but I also think that saying this is a cover to tiptoe around billionaires is harsh. Libertarians also couldn’t care less about inequality. An argument for EA (not the only one) is that inequality is not bad in itself. The fact that I am a well-off South African does not make people in Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique or even South Africa any poorer nor should that be why we care about people who live in absolute poverty. We should care about people because they are living in absolute deprivation. So a poor person in Europe who has most of their survival needs taken care of should be prioritized below a poor person in Mozambique who doesn’t. Again, this is debatable. One might think it is a bad to break that connection with those one lives around. But then debate this on its merits not just give the most uncharitable interpretation of the view.

The faults of SBF, Bill Gates, Bezos, Zuckers and the rest raised in this article may be valid. But the smear on a movement/philosophy followed by middle class people who just want to Ben smarter about how they do good is unnecessary. This smear has forced me to take issue with the article.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago
Reply to  Buhle Solomon

So what would you say the reason that the intentions never seem to match the results and these projects always seem to have extra baggage that no one asked for is?

Buhle Solomon
Buhle Solomon
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I don’t know why you say the intentions never match the results.

SBF is one EA financier who did shady things (I think, not really that informed on him). Elon kind of likes EA and does things that some people like and some people dislike.

Are you saying organizations championed by EA like Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly, Food fortification initiative are delivering poor results? Are you saying that donations across the world are delivering poor results? Can you please clarify? And what is the extra baggage?

Buhle Solomon
Buhle Solomon
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I don’t know why you say the intentions never match the results.

SBF is one EA financier who did shady things (I think, not really that informed on him). Elon kind of likes EA and does things that some people like and some people dislike.

Are you saying organizations championed by EA like Against Malaria Foundation, GiveDirectly, Food fortification initiative are delivering poor results? Are you saying that donations across the world are delivering poor results? Can you please clarify? And what is the extra baggage?

David Baker
David Baker
1 year ago
Reply to  Buhle Solomon

Effective altruism is a very shallow philosophy. There are far too many flaws to list out in a comment but to state a few


1) Like all utilitarian systems, it relies on a different ethical system to define “good.” To ask what does the greatest good requires one to define what is good, and if the answer is whatever does the greatest good, the answer is tautological and based on circular reasoning.

2) Because it deals with all potential future outcomes, any valuation is either arbitrary or meaningless. The value of prognostication drops off rapidly after the near term, so any probability of something happening in 4450 AD is completely meaningless, yet if I can project some small percentage of something happening to a 100 billion people then, I can arbitrarily value it higher than near certain things happening today.

3) Again, like all utilitarian systems, it tries to quantify inherently unquantifiable aspects of life. People are motivated to change into a vision of what they deem would be the good life (being a member of a loving family, feeling satisfied by the work they do, being a valued member of a community etc.), hopefully informed by a deep tradition and not just their own appetites. Ultimately this is something experienced through embodied knowledge and embodied conjecture. Even trying to quantify it misses the point, like trying to quantify what it is to have a rich conversation.

David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago
Reply to  David Baker

Your critiques of the utilitarian basis of EA are sound as critiques of the whole movement. Your point 2) is only a (to my mind devastating) critique of long-termism, but long-termism is not coextensive with EA.

David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago
Reply to  David Baker

Your critiques of the utilitarian basis of EA are sound as critiques of the whole movement. Your point 2) is only a (to my mind devastating) critique of long-termism, but long-termism is not coextensive with EA.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Buhle Solomon

Interesting response, thank you. In my view the article is useful in drawing attention to the use of the EA movement by power players hiding behind an altruistic smoke screen. An entirely human phenomenon, observable in the behaviour of high priests since the beginning of time.

What about this for an observation. Grand theories always tend to be cloaked in an argument that they’re good, but have an observable historical track record of causing a great deal of death and destruction, precisely because they allow power players room to operate.

People who who operate on a human scale, focussing on their families, helping the people they see in front of them, staying away from navel gazing over the meaning of life but giving it some meaning every day in practical ways, tend not to generate genocide.

The argument against the idea that people in Africa, or millions not yet born, should be as important as my family or my neighbours is therefore not theoretical it is empirical. Reducing human beings to concepts, rather than people with names and faces that you recognise, has led to their mistreatment so many times throughout history it should be a lesson.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Excellent response. The callousness that is bound to result from EA is on full display in the climate extremists who are preventing people getting to hospital, taking children to school, going to work, visiting the sick – all of whom are apparently expendable in their worldview.

Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Excellent response. The callousness that is bound to result from EA is on full display in the climate extremists who are preventing people getting to hospital, taking children to school, going to work, visiting the sick – all of whom are apparently expendable in their worldview.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago
Reply to  Buhle Solomon

So what would you say the reason that the intentions never seem to match the results and these projects always seem to have extra baggage that no one asked for is?

David Baker
David Baker
1 year ago
Reply to  Buhle Solomon

Effective altruism is a very shallow philosophy. There are far too many flaws to list out in a comment but to state a few


1) Like all utilitarian systems, it relies on a different ethical system to define “good.” To ask what does the greatest good requires one to define what is good, and if the answer is whatever does the greatest good, the answer is tautological and based on circular reasoning.

2) Because it deals with all potential future outcomes, any valuation is either arbitrary or meaningless. The value of prognostication drops off rapidly after the near term, so any probability of something happening in 4450 AD is completely meaningless, yet if I can project some small percentage of something happening to a 100 billion people then, I can arbitrarily value it higher than near certain things happening today.

3) Again, like all utilitarian systems, it tries to quantify inherently unquantifiable aspects of life. People are motivated to change into a vision of what they deem would be the good life (being a member of a loving family, feeling satisfied by the work they do, being a valued member of a community etc.), hopefully informed by a deep tradition and not just their own appetites. Ultimately this is something experienced through embodied knowledge and embodied conjecture. Even trying to quantify it misses the point, like trying to quantify what it is to have a rich conversation.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Buhle Solomon

Interesting response, thank you. In my view the article is useful in drawing attention to the use of the EA movement by power players hiding behind an altruistic smoke screen. An entirely human phenomenon, observable in the behaviour of high priests since the beginning of time.

What about this for an observation. Grand theories always tend to be cloaked in an argument that they’re good, but have an observable historical track record of causing a great deal of death and destruction, precisely because they allow power players room to operate.

People who who operate on a human scale, focussing on their families, helping the people they see in front of them, staying away from navel gazing over the meaning of life but giving it some meaning every day in practical ways, tend not to generate genocide.

The argument against the idea that people in Africa, or millions not yet born, should be as important as my family or my neighbours is therefore not theoretical it is empirical. Reducing human beings to concepts, rather than people with names and faces that you recognise, has led to their mistreatment so many times throughout history it should be a lesson.

Last edited 1 year ago by Martin Bollis
Buhle Solomon
Buhle Solomon
1 year ago

Wow this article is just one large smear piece. I really would not expect this from the author who I respected for consistently shining light on the counter-narrative to the origin of Covid. This article disappoints me.

Firstly, as I have commented in a previous article Effective Altruism (EA) is quite a large and diverse movement. Yes, it might lean-liberal and speak to issues that concern university-educated people but many people within it actually try very hard to identify its biases and correct them.

It is not a cult because some famous tech people identify with some of it’s causes. It’s an attempt to think about how one does good. This is very reasonable as indeed some charitable interventions are better than others.

Peter Singer’s argument about the drowning child does not lead one to eugenicist views of killing disabled babies. These are two separate arguments that he has made. You might hate him for the second one but that does not negate the first one. Debate the first one on its merits or that is just a smear, like saying the lab-leak theory is being promoted by people with racist/anti-Semitic views so it must just be dismissed.

The philosophy does not claim its morally bad to slave away in a job that’s useful. It argues one can do various different things and one should consider how they can have the biggest impact. Yes, it does say some very smart people may not have a significantly marginal impact on a given cause if they just did volunteer work that doesn’t utilize their brainy advantage. So instead one might earn to give. That is controversial and may give cover to tax avoidance as stated in the article but this is definitely not the only recommendation made. One also might build tech company or engineering companies that tackle the issues one cares about. Fintech startups like Wave in Kenya have been built by EA-aligned people trying to increase financial inclusion in Africa to create sustainable ways of dealing with poverty.

Social work opportunities and charity work are encouragd by EA. Members of the CEA, the admin body of the movement has a number of social workers. It’s just not for everybody. Again, this isn’t a very reasonable assertion.

It does ignore economic inequality but I also think that saying this is a cover to tiptoe around billionaires is harsh. Libertarians also couldn’t care less about inequality. An argument for EA (not the only one) is that inequality is not bad in itself. The fact that I am a well-off South African does not make people in Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique or even South Africa any poorer nor should that be why we care about people who live in absolute poverty. We should care about people because they are living in absolute deprivation. So a poor person in Europe who has most of their survival needs taken care of should be prioritized below a poor person in Mozambique who doesn’t. Again, this is debatable. One might think it is a bad to break that connection with those one lives around. But then debate this on its merits not just give the most uncharitable interpretation of the view.

The faults of SBF, Bill Gates, Bezos, Zuckers and the rest raised in this article may be valid. But the smear on a movement/philosophy followed by middle class people who just want to Ben smarter about how they do good is unnecessary. This smear has forced me to take issue with the article.