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Thoughts | Was Sam Bankman-Fried competent?


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As Sam Bankman-Fried (popularly known as SBF) gets ready to take the stand in his own trial, some fundamental questions remain unanswered. Did SBF think he was only trying to do good, and should that matter? What is “effective altruism,” the philosophy that supposedly guided his decisions? And why did we all fervently want to believe that a flashy tech entrepreneur could change the world for the better?

Three of our columnists — Christine Emba, Jason Willick and Megan McArdle — got together to talk about the defendant and the paradoxes surrounding his meteoric rise and fall.

Use the audio player, or The Post’s “Please, Go On” podcast feed, to listen to the entire conversation.

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Podcast episode

VIDEO: What to know about Sam Bankman-Fried and the FTX collapse
Washington Post

VIDEO: A Look Inside Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX Empire Before It Collapsed
Bloomberg Quicktake

Christine: I think that Americans have a fascination with — and an unwitting acceptance of — the smart young guy who’s out to disrupt. Take Facebook. Facebook’s founding slogan was “Move fast and break things.” The idea was that there’s some young guy out there who knows enough that he should be allowed to toss the rules out the window and rebuild the world according to his various wisdoms — that’s been very alluring.

Jason: I think Sam Bankman-Fried went out of his way to present himself as very safe to the great and the good — to the elites and the politicians in the United States. He said, “I’m not like the rival cryptocurrency guy, CZ, who is a very sketchy character. I’m giving all my money away. And I really want the regulators to get this market right.” SBF was claiming that he wasn’t trying to challenge the American establishment or really take risks in that way. He was going out of his way to portray himself as harmless.

Megan: I have a lot of sympathy for the disrupters. At the end of the day, I still am a libertarian.

Christine: I thought you were going to say that at the end of the day, you hold a lot of cryptocurrency …

Megan: Oh, God, no. I’ve been a crypto skeptic forever. I don’t get it. I have never understood what the value proposition was. The people who are into crypto really think it is going to change the world.

That said, Sam Bankman-Fried really was doing a pretty conventional thing. Basically, it’s arbitrage. You buy in a cheaper market and sell in the more expensive market — something that has gone on as long as there has been trade. He’s not like Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook. He is not like Jack Dorsey inventing Twitter. He’s not like Steve Jobs building Apple. He’s bringing a veneer of very conventional finance to this novel market.

The problem is that it was only a veneer.

Listen to the full conversation here:

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Podcast episode

VIDEO: The FTX Collapse, Explained | WSJ What Went Wrong
The Wall Street Journal

VIDEO: FTX: the legend of Sam Bankman-Fried | FT Film
Financial Times

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