History & Background

Elon Musk on William MacAskill’s book: ‘a close match for my philosophy’

In August, Elon Musk tweeted out a recommendation for What We Owe The Future — a book about “longtermism” written by “effective altruism” co-founder William MacAskill — calling it a “close match” for his own philosophy:

Less than three hours later, MacAskill himself made a Twitter thread highlighting Musk’s tweet and outlining where he thinks the two of them agree and disagree:

What MacAskill didn’t mention is that he apparently has a personal relationship with Musk, and that just months earlier he was directly lobbying Musk via text to make his Twitter deal a “joint effort” with Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF), who MacAskill called his “collaborator.” The conversation later became public as part of Musk’s lawsuit with Twitter.

MacAskill played a pivotal role in SBF’s career, starting when the future CEO was just a physics major at MIT.

The movement and organization that MacAskill co-founded have their fingerprints all over the founding of Alameda, the building of SBF’s fortune, and the FTX Foundation, through which millions of dollars in FTX’s supposed “profits” flowed.

MacAskill himself was on the small team overseeing the FTX Foundation’s “Future Fund” up until the collapse of FTX in November, along with several other “effective altruists.”

Embraced by Billionaires

Musk’s relationship with “effective altruism” (EA) goes back to at least 2015, when he spoke at the Effective Altruism Global event in California.

That same year, Bill Gates tweeted “A data nerd after my own heart…Man searches for the best charity,” before linking to an article that is heavily focused on MacAskill and his philosophies, written by one of his recent roommates—a staff writer for The Atlantic:

In 2013, two years earlier, Musk’s fellow “Paypal Mafia” member Peter Thiel was a keynote speaker at the first-ever Effective Altruism Summit. Thiel was also a student of Sam Bankman-Fried’s father, Joe Bankman, at Stanford Law School.

Other billionaires affiliated with “effective altruism” include Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, who was also a keynote speaker at the first EA Summit with Thiel, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

For an insightful overview of MacAskill’s philosophies and why they are likely so palatable to—and promoted by—these billionaires and technocrats, listen to the following podcast episode with Whitney Webb, Michael Krieger, and Marty Bent. The full episode is a must-hear, but the most relevant part begins around 51:00 (the player below should skip to the spot).

“If the social credit score world had a philosophy it would be ‘effective altruism.’ “
—Michael Kreiger