Sam Bankman-Fried, Guilty as Charged

Natalie Sherman and Peter Hoskins, BBC News:

Sam Bankman-Fried, who once ran one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, has been found guilty of fraud and money laundering at the end of a month-long trial in New York.

The jury delivered its verdict after less than five hours of deliberations.

It concludes a stunning fall from grace for the 31-year-old former billionaire, once known as the “King of Crypto”, who now faces decades in jail.

Two books were recently published about Bankman-Fried’s enterprise: Michael Lewis’ “Going Infinite” and Zeke Faux’s “Number Go Up”.

John Lanchester covered both for the London Review of Books:

[…] Sceptics have latched onto a remark that SBF, thinking he was off the record, made to a journalist about his ethical commitments in November 2022: ‘Man, all the dumb shit I said. It’s not true, not really.’ Some take that as a gotcha! revelation about SBF’s not really believing in EA [Effective Altruism]. I don’t think it is that: I think it’s consistent with what Lewis quotes about his inner emptiness. I think that interview, like most things SBF says about himself, is a glimpse into the abyss. He has no moral compass, other than one on loan from EA. Many people borrow their moral compasses from religion, but all religions have a place for empathy, even if it’s selectively applied. EA has no place for empathy, and neither does SBF.

I have not gotten around to Lewis’ book but, as luck would have had it, “Number Go Up” by Faux was already on my nightstand and I read it yesterday. It was an often engaging read undermined, I think, by a strange emptiness to the whole thing. As Lanchester captures, Bankman-Fried often comes across as a little hollow, unable to contend with exactly who he is or what he wants. But the book itself contains so many anecdotes that do not really go anywhere and only serve to illustrate how empty the narrative around cryptocurrency seems.

This review was published before the jury found Bankman-Fried guilty. However, Lanchester also writes effectively about the strangeness of the trial itself. It is worth your time.