Michael Lewis’ New Book Sheds a Positive Light on Sam Bankman-Fried
Michael Lewis, the renowned author of “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” is back with a new book that provides a fresh perspective on the controversial figure, Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF). While Lewis’ previous work focused on the United States housing bubble and the 2008 financial crisis, his latest book, titled “Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon,” offers a more favorable portrayal of SBF and his endeavors.
The book, published on October 3, delves into previously undisclosed details about the downfall of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange led by SBF. It includes revelations about SBF’s attempt to pay former President Donald Trump to not run for office again, as well as his list of pros and cons regarding his sexual relationship with former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison. However, what stands out in the book is the extensive exploration of SBF’s mindset when it comes to money and his interactions with others.
Effective Altruism: SBF’s Vision for Making a Difference
One entire chapter of Lewis’ book is dedicated to SBF’s motivations behind effective altruism, a philosophy centered on using wealth to improve the world. Lewis portrays SBF as someone who gathered inexperienced effective altruists to launch Alameda and FTX, presenting them as passionate crusaders on a noble mission. Unfortunately, this narrative largely ignores the negative consequences of their actions, such as the financial losses suffered by many FTX users when the exchange collapsed.
When FTX declared bankruptcy in November 2022, countless individuals were left financially and emotionally devastated. SBF had been hailed by some as a rising star capable of bridging the gap between cryptocurrency and traditional finance, and FTX held billions of dollars from retail investors. Unless these investors swiftly withdrew their funds as soon as the exchange’s decline began, most found themselves cut off from their savings for months.
According to Lewis’ account, Caroline Ellison’s parting message to Alameda employees following the collapse seemed dismissive and detached from the harsh reality faced by those who lost their jobs, money, and credibility. There was only one instance in the book where Lewis deviated from this narrative. It described a conversation between former FTX Chief Operating Officer Constance Wang and SBF after the exchange’s bankruptcy:
“When you were doing this,” said Wang, “Have you ever thought how much this event will be hurting people, and does that count as part of your ‘initial expected value’ calculation?”
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Both before and after this confrontation, Lewis frequently portrays Bankman-Fried as a highly skilled trader who is surprisingly inept at mundane tasks. He emphasizes details such as FTX’s extravagant headquarters in the Bahamas, which included a planned cube made of pure tungsten. The book concludes with Lewis’ own discovery of the cube, to which SBF’s only response was “badminton courts.”
If the prosecutors had based their case solely on the information provided in “Going Infinite,” it is doubtful that any charges would have been filed against the former FTX CEO. Lewis himself concludes that FTX user funds vanished without a trace and suggests that hedge fund managers had no prior knowledge of any wrongdoing leading up to the exchange’s collapse:
“All sorts of people who had no idea exactly what had happened inside Sam’s world now thought they knew all they needed to know. A surprising number of them thought the crime should have been obvious all along. It hadn’t been.”