Friday, July 30, 2010

George Soros

Soros is a love-to-hate guy on the right. It was interesting to try and place him in the Dorothy Thompson essay Who Goes Nazi? More interesting because he actually did have that experience, and by his own statements, what happened to him as a young Hungarian Jew at the end of WWII influences his politics today. He believes that what he sees from George Bush and the Republican Party reminds him of the Nazism he experienced then, and has worked to keep such people out of power.

Central Europeans who went through the end of WWII, especially if they are Jewish, are accorded immediate credibility in discussing such matters. Yet Soros was only 13 – not an age where his impressions of what sort of people were persecuting him have any meaning. Bush is showing similarity to Nazis in what way, exactly, that a 13-year-old would have any understanding of? I grant that he feels intensely that the madness should not be repeated (how could he not? The persecution part would certainly be understandable to children even younger) but what are the political and economic policy equivalences he works from? I submit that these are imposed retroactively. Feelings are not facts. It is rather like the elderly Polish gentleman who handed me anti-semitic tracts in the park one day. He had seen the “Jewish Communists” overrun his village as a boy. Yes, I should believe him. He had seen it. He was there. That was why he hated the Jews.

On the subject of how money works now, and what the possible consequences of policies are, however, Soros clearly speaks with enormous authority. If he is a free-marketer who nonetheless believes that market fundamentalism is a dangerous policy, that deserves attention.

His philanthropy versus his business ruthlessness gives us a mixed ethical picture. This is a man who has given more of his own money than almost anyone in history in support of causes nearly all Americans would approve of: the Solidarity movement in Poland which helped bring down the Iron Curtain; the Rose Revolution in Georgia; universities in Central Europe; government transparency in horribly corrupt countries. Yet he is also the man who broke the Bank of England in 1992 with an intentional attack on the British Pound, shrugging this off as merely a matter of how the game is played. He destabilises governments, and we mostly don’t mind because they are governments we’d just as soon destabilise anyway.

It is clear he does not desire money for its own sake, nor power for its own sake. He wants to influence the world in directions he thinks good. But the package of contradictions may give some explanation how he can fund dishonest and manipulative political actions “for our own good.” He can make a strong case that it is for our own good, and the shortcomings of individual organizations he supports are not much worse than others of similar type. There is the combined arrogance and selflessness of the crusader, it seems.

Leave aside the libertarian argument that people should be allowed to do as they wish, even if they are wrong, and the American argument that free people eventually get it right. I agree with both of those principles, but the latter is an article of faith, and the former is highly dependent on it. If people are going to mostly get it right, and efforts to control them are largely going to make things worse, then of course the libertarian and American values should prevail.

But what if it’s no longer true? What if the speed and international nature of current finance can indeed destroy things quickly enough that market principles that apply to bakers and barbers are swept away with the tide? What if world markets can be made freer – as Soros believes – but that there is an upper limit to that freedom, requiring a strong central international government to curb excesses? Don’t answer that for the moment. There are too many other variables I have not begun to mention.

For the moment, let’s just look at the phrase “strong central international government,” spoken by a person who has enormous influence in the world. I long ago sent my Hal Lindsey and Salem Kirban books to yard sales. I still have occasional contact with Christians who are “into prophecy,” and see end-time events in the most banal of occurrences, but I have little interest in the subject myself. But as with all the implanted chip, eye-scanning, and thumbprint technology that we’re going to increasingly use to gain access to our computers, hold our medical records, and automatically deposit and deduct from our accounts – that would cover a lot of the waterfront for buy-and-sell - that “international government” phrase just creeps me out. Especially coming from a powerful insane person.

Yes, I know it’s supposed to be the anti-Soros people who are the paranoid insane ones, but he’s on record comparing George Bush to Hitler and Yasser Arafat. He claimed that getting rid of Bush was the most important focus of his life and he’d spend his whole fortune on it. It’s one thing to be opposed to someone, and think their policies are damaging, or not trust them, but calling them Hitler? The most important focus of your life? Those are ravings. Powerless people make those exaggerations in order to be heard, but risk being seen at nutcases for it. If he actually believes that, then he’s a paranoid insane person, even if he is brilliant at identifying market vulnerabilities.

Unless of course, he doesn’t really believe it and is just trying to manipulate a new market, that of political rather than financial power. That would be considerably worse than being paranoid, though. Or an arrogant anyone-in-my-way-is-Hitler mentality, which would also be worrisome.


(another) Jonathan said...

Soros has done much good with his philanthropy. And IMO the "broke the Bank of England" accusation is nonsense: he merely surfed a financial wave, very cleverly to be sure, but if his timing had been different he could have lost a lot of money. But your last points, about his anti-Bush statements and political activism in this country, seem spot-on. It is odd that he is usually accused on the silly points and given a pass on the serious ones. Also, it is interesting that Soros is at best indifferent to Israel, an odd position for a Jewish refugee.

Gringo said...

He claimed that getting rid of Bush was the most important focus of his life and he’d spend his whole fortune on it.

Which supports the suspicion that the Crash of 2008 was engineered to defeat Bush- an October surprise.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yeah, Soros and his 10 richest friends couldn't create the weaknesses in the economy from bad mortgages and worthless CDO's, but maybe he could create the timing. Scary thought.

(another) Jonathan said...

I don't think they could create the timing. I do think that Obama self-servingly talked down the stock market during the second half of 2008. By doing so he hurt the Republicans and positioned himself better for the inevitable market rebound -- for which Democratic partisans are already taking credit, using post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.

Soros strikes me as a partisan jerk with some issues, but I don't think any of the conspiracy theories about him have merit.