An Open Letter to Sam Bankman-Fried

by David Salzillo Jr. '24 on February 16, 2023
Opinion Staff

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The rise and fall of your cryptocurrency empire/Ponzi scheme (sorry, but the truth is the truth) has raised many questions about the model of “effective altruism” you embraced. As for me, I can only think, “If only you had listened to the Church Fathers.”

“Effective altruism,” as advocated for by philosophers like your mentor William MacAskill, proposes “using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible,” In other words, satisfy your greed, make your fortune, and then give the poor the crumbs that fall from your table. I understand that MacAskill had good intentions and that you may have been a true believer. But either way, effective altruism is nothing more than a cover for greed, covetousness, and injustice.  

Those in the early Church would have understood this well. As disciples of St. Basil the Great put it, “Acts of charity from unjust gains are not acceptable to God.” They remind us of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Cease to do evil, and learn to do good,” (Isaiah 1:16-17). Really, the prophet tells us to “cease to do evil, and then learn to do good.” You are not doing good if you are not ceasing to do evil. If you are defrauding your customers and then passing off your plunder as charity, then you are not bettering the world with evidence and reason. At best, your offerings towards social justice are a net zero; the world would have been none the poorer if you became a barista at Starbucks. Your pseudo-Enlightenment project only forced the world to place another person in jail.  

Therefore, the Church Fathers challenge us to “possess with justice and dispense with mercy,” (On Mercy and Justice). To possess justice, “the rich should carefully consider their means from which they intend to make offerings, in order to make certain that they have not wielded power over the poor, or used force against the weak, or committed extortion against those in a subordinate position,” (On Mercy and Justice). I challenge you to do the same. I am sure you have heard the saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Good intentions do not stop the cycles of poverty, greed, and exploitation; right actions do. Always “beware of practicing your piety [or, in this case, your charity] before others,” (Matthew 6:1). A small gift unstained by injustice is better than a massive monument to folly.