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Why This Wealthy Techie’s $2 Million Donation Is Super Rad

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Ripple co-founder Chris Larsen ups his total donation to Avenue Greenlight to $3.7 million. (Ripple)

There’s reason for small business owners in the Bay Area to rejoice. Chris Larsen, co-founder of crypto company Ripple, is giving $2 million to stoke local retail districts. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, this is in addition to the $1.7 million he provided in 2021. Larsen is a born-and-raised San Franciscan who is funneling his money through Avenue Greenlight.

There are lots of reasons why relying on individual wealthy citizens for social improvement is worrisome; a German-run 2019 study determining the wealthy are more narcissistic than others, for example, doesn’t inspire much hope. But there’s a philosophy called effective altruism that, with this donation in mind, signals a big come up for the Bay.

First, a quick primer of what the wealthy could do with their money instead of supporting local businesses. As detailed in Ivette Perfecto’s 2021 book on agriculture and economics Nature’s Matrix, the globalization of finance has grown through not-so-noble intentions. In 1944, the Bretton Woods system created the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the bones of today’s World Bank. Co-working with the then-relatively new International Monetary Fund, the bank financed and oversaw infrastructure to gain access to sources of capital around the world. One of the easiest ways to do this in foreign countries was to offer loans on condition that exports took steep price cuts for producers, one tool in the structural adjustment program (SAP) toolkit. Private oligarchs found a cheat code to balloon their money abroad, an ongoing practice that finally earned a modicum of public shaming thanks to Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal hot girl era.

That brief history is one way to rethink local investment from wealthy citizens like Larsen. His money coming to the dozens of businesses in San Francisco, including erecting new flags in the Castro and restoring the crab wheel in Fisherman’s Wharf, is a constructive way for sums of money to flow. The only thing Larsen stands to gain is a more beautiful, robust local culture and community. Doubling down on tangible, real-world ways to strengthen one’s local economy is a noble act.

Bay Area moron and nepo baby Sam Bankman-Fried brought light to the philosophy of effective altruism. For someone raised in private schools, suckling at the golden teat from day one, Bankman-Fried made it clear he believed only the future could be saved, the people of today an afterthought. He’s like a nega-Larsen, a P.T. Barnum of crypto who told Vox financial regulators “make everything worse.” Moving his customer’s money around like a hat game, he sought to enrich himself at every step. At the other side of the spectrum is Ripple’s co-founder. Larsen sees value in providing the San Francisco of today with real, usable monies. And that seems a lot better than injuring others in the name of turning a dollar into two.

While billionaires shouldn’t exist, it is heartening when some occasionally do good work.

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Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri (he/they) is a writer living on the coast. He's a reporter for Eater SF and the author of three books of fiction and one book of poetry.