The Mind of George Soros
Meet the Esperanto enthusiast who wants to save the world from
[BUT WHO WILL SAVE AMERICA AND THE WORLD FROM GEORGE SOROS?]
BY JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
Wednesday, March 3, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST
"I have made rejection of the Bush doctrine the central project of my
life," announced George Soros in January. "I am determined to do what
I can," he added, to assure that President Bush is not re-elected.
Coming from someone else, such statements might be written off as
delusional, but Mr. Soros is a man with a record of achieving outsized
goals. A financier who began with a stake of a few thousand dollars,
he traded and speculated his way to a fortune of many billions, making
him one of the world's richest men. Then he turned to philanthropy, an
enterprise he undertook with so much largesse and so much panache...
[the panache of a megalomaniac.~nlc]
Mr. Soros has declared his intent to devote similar energy and
single-mindedness to his new "project." Campaign-finance regulations
may place stringent limits on donations to candidates--and now, with
the McCain-Feingold law, to political parties as well--but they still
allow unlimited donations to so-called independent political
committees (though the Federal Election Commission is mulling new
regulations on these groups, also known as 527s). According to reports
last November, Mr. Soros had already pledged $18 million to three
liberal anti-Bush groups of this kind, announcing that "If necessary,
I would give more." As he sees it, "America, under Bush, is a danger
to the world. And I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is."
This impassioned crusade may come as a surprise to some. Mr. Soros's
fame rests not on his political commitments, after all, but on his
achievements as "the world's greatest money manager" (a title bestowed
on him by Institutional Investor magazine) and as the open-handed
benefactor of the nations of the former Soviet bloc. As it turns out,
however, there are other sides to the eccentric figure who has now
decided to make his formidable presence felt in our electoral
[CAVEAT EMPTOR qui ignorare non debuit quod jus alienum emit!]
CAVEAT:The Democrat buyer-politicians should not be ignorant that they
buy the rights of anothers.
Best to vet the conformation and the mind of a Trojan Horse.
Born in Hungary in 1930, Mr. Soros began life as George Schwartz. His
father, Tivadar, was from humble origins; his mother, Erzebet, from
money. Both were Jews, but nonobservant (she eventually converted to
Catholicism). Once married, Tivadar had to work just two hours a day
managing some of his wife's family property, which provided a handsome
living for them and their two sons, Paul and George. At some point
during the boys' childhood, the parents decided to change the family
name and chose the Hungarian-sounding but in fact obscure Soros. It
means "soar" (in the future tense) in Esperanto, the made-up
trans-European language promoted by those who dreamed of a world free
of nationality. Tivadar was among its leading proponents.
The arrival of World War II had, at first, little effect on the
privileged Soros family. The athletic Paul would later recall his main
privation as the unavailability of Dunlop tennis balls; he had to make
do with a brand of lesser quality. Although Tivadar procured American
visas for his wife and sons, saying he himself would remain in
Budapest, Erzebet refused to go.
But 1944 brought an ominous change. The Nazis, fearing for the loyalty
of their ally, Adm. Miklos Horthy, the military dictator of Hungary,
occupied the country and forced Horthy to replace his government with
one more devoted to Hitler's goals. Adolf Eichmann soon arrived to
oversee the liquidation of Hungary's Jews, a project over which Horthy
had temporized. Now Tivadar secured false identity papers for each
member of his family and dispersed them to various dwellings away from
the family's own homes. In this manner, identified as Christians, all
four survived the Holocaust.
Soon after the war it became apparent to Tivadar that Hungary's Soviet
"liberators" were not going to withdraw but would instead impose a
Communist regime. By 1947 he arranged for George, then 17, to leave
for London, where some cousins were prepared to provide shelter. Nazi
and Communist expropriations having taken their toll on the family's
holdings, there was insufficient income to support George while
abroad; studying at the London School of Economics, he sustained
himself by working at odd jobs.
After finishing his degree, Mr. Soros found work at the London Stock
Exchange. One thing led to another; in 1956, quite by coincidence, he
was hired for a position on Wall Street. In America, he began to
invest the money of friends and acquaintances as well as his own
modest bankroll, and was soon turning a handsome profit. He set
himself a five-year goal of building his fortune to a half-million
dollars, a sum on which he imagined he might retire and devote himself
to intellectual pursuits (which he always regarded as his true
calling). As his returns exceeded his goals, he set his financial
sights higher, evidently spurred less by greed than by pride in his
flowering talent as a speculator and his love of the game.
Having already lived in two other countries, Mr. Soros had an eye for
international trading. He pioneered maneuvers that exploited small
variations from one country to another in the value of a given share
or financial instrument. He had a sharp instinct for currency trading,
and his specialty was the fast deal. As The New Yorker put it in a
recent profile, he was "adept at finding tax loopholes and operating
in gray areas where oversight is scant and maneuverability wide."
As late as the early 1980s, Mr. Soros was telling interviewers that he
did not believe in philanthropy. He had already created the Open
Society Fund, the first of what would become a constellation of
foundations through which he was to channel his generosity. But the
original motive, he explained, was not primarily benevolent. The fund
was set up as what the law calls a charitable lead trust, which Mr.
Soros described as "a very interesting tax gimmick" allowing him to
pass large sums to his heirs untaxed.
Whatever the origins of his eleemosynary activities may have been,
they eventually became his main passion. Turning over the management
of his investment funds to deputies, he threw himself into charitable
work with the same zeal he had once devoted to trading. His gifts made
a big impact in the countries in Eastern Europe in transition from
communism. In some of them, his largesse apparently exceeded the aid
received from the U.S. government.
For the breadth and imagination of his giving, Mr. Soros has been
widely, and deservedly, praised. A reviewer in the New York Times did
not hesitate to call him "one of the great men of our times." Never
shy about his own accomplishments, Mr. Soros has basked in this
adulation. He calls himself a "stateless statesman." Referring to the
region where he concentrated his philanthropy, he declares unabashedly
that "the former Soviet Empire is now called the Soros Empire."
Nevertheless, it is neither for his charitable work nor for his
financial wizardry that Mr. Soros wishes most to be recognized.
Rather, it is for his intellectual accomplishments. From early on, as
he would have it, he fully expected to become another Keynes or
Einstein. At the London School of Economics, he studied economics but
was fascinated by philosophy. He was especially taken with the work of
the Anglo-Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, who was then on the LSE
faculty and served, at least formally, as the young refugee's adviser.
Mr. Soros likes to say that Popper's ideas about the "open society"
and the fallibility of human knowledge have been the starting point
for his own philosophical contributions.
These begin with the theory of "reflexivity"--his term for the notion
that in human affairs, unlike in the world of inanimate nature, the
observer is himself part of the universe that he is attempting to
observe; thus, the very act of observation may influence the reality
being analyzed. This insight has been, in turn, the basis for Mr.
Soros's theory of history, which revolves around "boom-bust cycles."
When a social enterprise of some kind--a business, a movement, a
nation--is doing well, Mr. Soros argues, this creates a bandwagon
effect that leads inevitably to overvaluation or overreaching,
producing an artificial "bubble" that must eventually burst.
Alas, for all his aspirations, Mr. Soros has met with disappointment
as a philosopher. He spent three years weaving his ideas into a book
titled "The Burden of Consciousness" but left it unfinished when, as
he confessed to his biographer, he himself could not understand on the
morrow what he had written the day before. In lieu of that volume, he
has presented excursuses on reflexivity in most of the half-dozen
books he has published. These passages have repeatedly evoked
exasperation from reviewers, who have found the idea both obscure and
commonplace. But Mr. Soros has shrugged off these criticisms,
commenting that his theory is "not yet properly understood."
As if to vindicate himself, Mr. Soros has said that his philosophical
framework has "turned out to be very helpful to me in the financial
markets"--a tantalizing claim and one that, undoubtedly, helps to
explain the wide audience for his books. But the people who have
worked closely with Mr. Soros see much more intuition than philosophy
in his methods. His son, Robert, who has taken over some of the family
business, has observed:
My father will sit down and give you theories to explain why he does
this or that. But I remember seeing it as a kid and thinking . .. . at
least half of this is bullsh--. I mean . . . the reason he changes his
position on the market or whatever is because his back starts killing
him. It has nothing to do with reason.
Nor, indeed, is it easy to detect the influence of Mr. Soros's
philosophy on his philanthropic activism. One might assume that an
understanding of "reflexivity"--that is, our supposed inability to
stand apart from social phenomena and judge them in a dispassionate
light--would demand a certain modesty in the rendering of practical
judgments. But Mr. Soros has never hesitated to advocate sweeping
change or to pursue grand political strategies, serenely confident in
his own ability to discern the needed remedies for the ills of dozens
of different societies and indeed for the world as a whole.
At some point in the late 1990s, after years of devoting himself to
the former Communist world, Mr. Soros decided that his attention was
required in America. His first major venture into domestic issues was
in support of the campaign to decriminalize drugs. He credits the poet
Allen Ginsberg, an apostle of sexual and chemical liberation whom he
befriended in the 1980s, with having alerted him to the injustice of
American drug laws. Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society
Institute, and a man sometimes described as Mr. Soros's "secretary of
state," has explained the allegedly malicious intent behind our
current drug laws in these loaded terms: "Criminalization is a
strategy that buys into the notion that if you lock up enough young
black males--for whatever reason--you will promote public safety