Elon Musk's preferred banker is a professor of philosophy
It’s not uncommon for middle-aged investment bankers to look at the emptiness in their souls and wish that they’d become philosophers. It’s also apparently quite normal for middle-aged philosophers to look at their bank balance and wish they’d gone into investment banking. But looking through the Elon Musk text messages, made public in a recent court filing, reveals that it might be possible to do both.
Most of Elon’s text exchanges are with fellow techies and CEOs, Silicon Valley investors and senior financiers (most particularly, Michael Grimes of Morgan Stanley). But there’s also a surprising number of exchanges with Will MacAskill, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Lincoln College, Oxford.
Professor MacAskill is most famous as the intellectual heart of the “Effective Altruism” and “longtermism” movements. To summarise his views with brutal brevity (if you want the real thing, read his book), his philosophy is based on doing the greatest amount of good possible, without regard for who benefits or whether the rewards happen now or in the distant future. He also thinks we should be very concerned about the danger of low-probability extinction events which might destroy all futures for humanity.
These ideas have caught on pretty strongly in the tech community – if you were being cynical, you’d say it was a philosophical justification for spending your time on cool stuff like interplanetary colonisation and thinking that runaway artificial intelligence was a more pressing problem than homelessness in San Francisco.
As a result of this, MacAskill seems to have a contact list that would be the envy of many coverage bankers. He is literally the reason why Sam Bankman-Fried is a billionaire today – as an undergraduate, a lecture by MacAskill convinced him that he could to more good in the world by turning away from a career path in charity work, and “earning to give” instead.
That’s why his name crops up in the Musk litigation – he sent a few texts giving Bankman-Fried an introduction to the Tesla CEO, in the context of a potential co-investment in the Twitter takeover. Reading the texts, it seems that his good offices counted for a lot; Musk gave a pretty favourable reception and exchanged texts with SB-F shortly after, while a similar attempt at introduction by Michael Grimes resulted in an outburst about not wanting to have his time wasted with blockchain waffle.
It would be crass and vulgar to ask if Prof. MacAskill took a finder’s fee or introductory commission. Except … it kind of wouldn’t? His whole philosophy is based on the idea that it’s good, not bad, to monetise your talents and then donate the proceeds to where they can generate the greatest benefits, and he’s famous for practicing what he preaches.
To be blunt, if you have the ability to make contacts at that sort of level and you’re not making seven figures basic plus stock options, then you’re not trying. There’s a strong case to be made that, at the current stage of the market, MacAskill ought to take a sabbatical from his Oxford college and work as a tech banker for a couple of years, to support even more effective altruism and longtermist projects. Or possibly even better, to get an FCA registration and run a very small corporate finance boutique out of his college rooms. Either way, it seems that if you want to impress founders and win IPOs, moonlighting as an Uber driver is out, and the new thing is to attend seminars on the future of human life in the year 5 billion.
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