Over the last few months, before FTX filed for bankruptcy and its 30-year-old founder admitted to being a fraud, aides to Sam Bankman-Fried began thinking bigger than just their quotidian work of preventing the next pandemic. The crypto king was at the height of his powers, with a $20 billion net worth and seemingly everyone in Washington begging for an introduction. And so quietly, in private conversations that made their way to me, S.B.F. aides hatched a venture to tackle not just pandemics, but all of the great challenges of the day.
The name of the outfit being built was The Center for the Future, an umbrella organization designed to capture all of the imagination, all of the ambition, and yes, all of the money emanating from Bankman-Fried and his effective-altruist colleagues in the Bahamas. The idea was, in one sense, just a legal rollup and brand refresh of the many existing entities comprising S.B.F.’s philanthropic-political machine. But it struck me and those involved as having more symbolic significance, beginning with the grandiose name itself. The plan, according to people familiar with it, was to eventually divide and conquer all of the world’s long-term problems, from climate change to nuclear nonproliferation and democracy reform. In April of this year, aides quietly filed to incorporate in Delaware. People who spoke with S.B.F.’s aides came away with the impression that The Center for the Future had ambitions to rival The Gates Foundation in its financial and cultural heft.
Those in the blast radius of S.B.F.’s fall—Democratic candidates, donor-advisors, nonprofit grantees—can’t help but shake their heads and marvel at how quickly it all came tumbling down. After all, S.B.F. aides once talked openly about a 50-year campaign for influence that would transform the state of American politics and policy. “Sam’s idea is he basically saw all the world’s biggest problems as being multi-decade, multi-century trillion-dollar problems,” said one person who worked with his political and philanthropic shop. “How do you solve global hunger? You can’t possibly hope to solve pandemic prevention on the timescale of one person’s lifetime. Rather than think about how to solve that in a 10- or a 20- or a 30-year career, think in terms of 50 or 100 years.”