What Silicon Valley’s New Ethical Thinking Gets Right—and Wrong

Effective altruism and longtermism are all the rage these days. How should Christians engage?

Former cryptocurrency trade executive Ryan Salame was sentenced last week for federal financial crimes he committed while working for FTX. The company’s billionaire founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, was also sentenced months ago for engaging in “one of the largest financial frauds in history.” This case is making headlines and sparking long-term conversations in the burgeoning field of tech ethics.

Bankman-Fried’s name and story are inextricably connected to the new ethical thinking of Silicon Valley, which is increasingly influenced by “longtermism”—the idea that positively influencing the future is the key moral priority of our time—and “effective altruism,” which dictates that if you want to do good, you should do it as effectively as possible.

The prominent thought leaders of these principles are William MacAskill (What We Owe the Future, 2022) and Roman Krznaric (The Good Ancestor, 2020). MacAskill taught Bankman-Fried during his time at Oxford, advising him that his acquired talents would be most effectively maximized in business and philanthropy. And so, citing longtermism and effective altruism as reasons for founding FTX, Bankman-Fried’s company earned him trust and billions of dollars—some of which went to charitable causes while much eventually ended up in his own pocket.

Not only did Bankman-Fried’s focus on long-term moral goals eventually eclipse the ethics of his immediate personal actions, but it appears thought leaders like MacAskill reportedly ignored repeated warnings about Bankman-Fried. Why? As Charlotte Alter wrote for Time magazine, “For a group of philosophers who had spent their lives contemplating …

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