Could someone send an Uber yacht to the Bahamas, where Bankman-Fried resides, throw a net over him, and give him his day in court? How many ways are there to say, “I did it” and not have the book thrown at you? At least OJ Simpson had the cunning to add the word “if” to his book, If I did on the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. But Bankman-Fried’s ego is too big to add the conditional. I did it, I did it, I did it, he repeatedly told Sorkin, but somehow it wasn’t voluntary.
Watching the interview, you couldn’t help but think you were watching an unaired episode of Billions, the sharp Showtime series Sorkin co-created about Wall Street rogues and the cops who chase them. The scene: A man-child with Dylan curls from his blonde on blonde period interviewed by a leading financial reporter as he sat in the corner of a room looking like he was being held there by his parents, his eyes downcast and remorseful, but also cheeky. “I am deeply sorry for what happened,” Bankman-Fried told Sorkin, as if expressing regret for spilling a magnum of burgundy on his host’s antique Persian rug. If this had actually appeared on Billions, even the most devoted fan would have thrown their remote control at the screen and said, no way, not in a million years that could happen. No one could possess so much cunning to lose so much money and then plead guilty in front of a live audience. Any screenwriter daring to write such a scene would be expelled from the screenwriters’ room and banished from the profession.
And yet, does life look like bad fiction? In retrospect, Bankman-Fried’s entire life is bad fiction, written by him, in which he charms the adults around him. So far, the world has completely bought Bankman-Fried’s one-act child-genius. Loose t-shirts and shorts. Claims to be a missionary for the now less popular philosophy of “effective altruism”. The cheeky boy who played League of Legends on his computer while pitching VCs to Sequoia Capital and making millions in campaign donations. The wise financier who talks crypto on stage with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and ventures to lobby Congress for favorable regulation. So why shouldn’t he just keep playing the part, just because it’s gotten amazing over the past month? More than one kid beat the cookie jar looting rap saying he wanted to get to the bottom of the capers, even though they’re covered in chocolate chip crumbs.
Everything you need to know about Bankman-Fried was revealed when Sorkin, who pilots his ship through financial scams almost daily, asked him if he had been honest in this interview. “Absolutely” would have been a good answer. “Yes” would have sufficed. But this is not the Bankman-Fried method. As he did several times in the interview, he unleashed the kind of mind-blowing language that seems to have been removed from a website’s terms of service. As if brushing cookie crumbs from his face, Bankman-Fried replied to Sorkin: ‘I was as truthful as I was – you know, I’m knowledgeable – there are some things I wish I knew more . But, yes, I was.
As truthful as I can be. When billions have evaporated. Spoken like a real crook.
“I had a bad month,” Bankman-Fried said, a sympathy-seeking aside that had the crowd laughing halfway through the session. It was probably the most honest and direct thing he had said. On Wall Street, they like to say that past performance is no guarantee of future results, but in Bankman-Fried’s case, we should change that. His bad month is an excellent predictor of many other bad months to come.
Send your reserve billions to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are honored at this time. My Twitter feed is busy watching Billions reruns. My Juggernaut account opposes all forms of capitalism, even state capitalism. My RSS feed dresses worse than Sam Bankman-Fried.