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On the money

The “capitalist monk” giving his billions away

Lam Yik/Bloomberg/Getty

Sam Bankman-Fried is a 30-year-old cryptocurrency tycoon worth more than $20bn. FTX, the crypto exchange platform he founded, “handles $15bn of trading on a good day”, says Zeke Faux in Bloomberg. Despite hobnobbing with celebrities – he recently attended a dinner with Jeff Bezos, Leonardo DiCaprio and Katy Perry – Bankman-Fried is undeniably “schlubby”: he has a “mop of curly hair” and works in shorts and a t-shirt. His Bahamas-based office, where he sleeps on a beanbag most weekdays, is littered with tubes of lip balm and left-over lunches.

His peers describe him as a “strange sort of capitalist monk”, who swore off relationships – and regular showers – due to lack of time. But the only reason he’s set on making money is so he can give it away. He’s an advocate of “effective altruism”, inspired by the utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer. The idea is to use scientific reasoning “to figure out how to do the most good for the most people”.

In his case, Bankman-Fried reckoned he should make “tons of money” to donate to the most worthwhile causes. He gave away $50m last year – recipients included pandemic relief in India and climate change initiatives – and this year plans to donate “up to $1bn”. Bankman-Fried briefly got excited about buying up coal mines, “both to prevent emissions and to keep fuel on hand in case it’s needed in a post-apocalyptic scenario”. In the end, “he decided it wasn’t cost-effective”.