Longtermism: how good intentions and the rich created a dangerous creed

Tech billionaires seem intent on giving away a lot of money. But are those who support ‘effective altruism’ ignoring the very real problems of today?

In the past few weeks a photograph of Tony Blair and his buddy Bill Clinton sharing a panel with a scruffy kid wearing a T-shirt, baggy shorts and trainers has been doing the rounds. The April event was in the Bahamas and funded by an outfit called FTX – a supposedly “user-friendly crypto exchange” – owned by the scruffy kid, Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF from now on). Blair and Clinton are looking very pleased to be there, providing confirmation of the aphrodisiac effect of great wealth, because the lad who was playing host was apparently as rich as Croesus, or at any rate worth $32bn.

And this was real wealth, it seemed. After all, the venture capitalists at Sequoia – who had backed Silicon Valley success stories such as Google and PayPal – had given him the green light (as well as some of their investors’ money). A few months after Blair and Clinton made their pilgrimage to the sun-soaked and regulation-lite Bahamas, one of Sequoia’s partners offered a breathless endorsement of SBF and his crypto exchange. “Of the exchanges that we had met and looked at”, she wrote, “some of them had regulatory issues, some of them were already public. And then there was Sam.” And FTX, which, Sequoia felt, was “Goldilocks-perfect”.

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