Archive for the ‘Soros’ Category

Understanding George Soros…

February 1, 2008

…né Schwartz…

George Soros published an op-ed in the Financial Times on March 19, 2007 based on a longer polemic in the New York Review of Books in which he supported negotiating Mideast peace with Hamas and blamed AIPAC, George W. Bush and Israel for the fact that a durable settlement of the Israel-Arab problem has not yet been reached.  The full article can be found at this link http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20030, and the1988 Covenant establishing the Hamas organization, as translated by Yale University, can be found at the following link http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/hamas.htm, and also in this blog under Hamas Charter.

 

I will not exhaustively analyze the Soros article.  I will try to offer insight into why Soros thinks the way he does. I will also argue that he has learned the wrong lessons from history and has identified the wrong causes of the problems in the Middle East.  And, I will suggest that successful financial speculators make poor philosophers and even poorer policy makers.

I met Soros a few years ago.  I had dinner with him.  It was a snowy night in New York City, not unlike last Friday, and the president of my company did not want to attend a high level dinner hosted by Citibank, for the Institute of International Finance, at which George Soros was to attend.  My company is a member of this institute, so I was sent to represent the firm.  There were only about eight of us, mostly bank presidents or former central bank chairmen, and I was shivering in my boots.  We spoke about sick Japanese banks, the possibility of a Russian default, and the various risks to the international financial system of that time.  I belted out a few strong opinions myself, so as not to be seen cowering among the Great and the Good.  I was initially impressed with George Soros.  Amid the bluster of many of the others at the table, he sat quietly and listened to his interlocuteurs, a clever poker player, soaking in everyone else’s bravado, but not showing his cards.  But then, the name-dropping began and Soros could not resist. 

Here is his weakness.  He has a love-hate relationship with power.  He is at heart an anarchist, hating power, but loves to influence behind the scenes.  The classic European Court Jew.  Never wielding power, only influencing it through his cleverness.  Vladimir Putin told me this, Vladimir Putin told me that.  That sort of thing.

This is simply a vignette and only one person’s impressions from a brief encounter.  Soros’s actions, statements and writings are consistent with this, however.  A few years ago, after Soros lambasted Ariel Sharon and his policies for aggravating global anti-Semitism, I read an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post, which, to say the least, was very opinionated.  However, it illuminated the nature of the beast.  The writer argued that Soros so hated Sharon, and in fact Israel itself, because Sharon represented the ‘new Jew’, the settler of the land, the soldier defending the land, the farmer, the kibbutznik. Soros, the writer argued, was the embodiment of the ‘old Jew’, the ‘Court Jew’, rich from financial speculation, urban and urbane, a speaker of foreign languagues, well-educated, an advisor of princes and potentates.  Which Jew, the new or the old, has engendered more anti-Semitism, the writer asked.  Certainly, anti-Semitic literature has been replete with diatribes against the ‘old Jew’.  As late as 1998, the anti-Semitic Malaysian leader, Mahathir Mohamed, blamed the Asian financial crisis on Soros’s financial manipulation.

Before Soros became a global statesman and philanthropist, he was a currency speculator, making billions by forcing governments to devalue their currencies; his greatest victim the august Bank of England, which netted him over US$1 billion.  That is not exactly playing a productive role in our world, is it?  Some economists might argue, yes, but the workers thrown out of work after a country devalues its currency might disagree.  Even Soros himself allegedly said once that “as a market participant, I don’t need to be concerned about the consequences of my actions.”  That’s one moral escape hatch to justify getting filthy rich.  However, ever the anarchist, in addition to getting rich, he brought a government to its knees.

As a philanthropist, he pursued some good causes, through his Open Society Institute.  Yet many of these had an anarchist edge.  He funded dissidents in eastern Europe, helping to bury the Soviet system.  He gave money for the defense of an attorney who represented terrorists and was convicted of materially aiding them in their attacks.  The writer of the JPost article mentioned above noted that Soros, for all his charitable giving, has never given a thin dime to Israel, preferring to spend his charitable dollars on universities in eastern Europe and other good works.  All fine and good.  It’s his money.

Soros’s professed goal as a financial speculator, according to reports, was to make enough money to become a philosopher.  But, his books, among them, Crisis of Global Capitalism, Bubble of American Supremacy, The Age of Infallibility, and George Soros on Globalization, are idiosyncratic indictments of power.  Look at the titles.  Grandiose, no?  His attempts to address enormous global issues are generally held to be mediocre analytically.  Money does not make a man smart. 

One of Soros’s charities was MoveOn.org as well as other vehicles to try to throw George W. Bush out office.  Now, W is not very popular, true, so many people can agree with this endeavor.  In 2004, Soros called this the “central focus of my life.”  Not someone to shy away from using his personal fortune to obtain enormous political outcomes, especially an outcome that dethrones the powerful.

Soros is a creature of Europe, gray old Europe.  As opposed to black and white America.  Soros believes in relative, not absolute, morality.  Moral certainty is his enemy.  His only absolute is to hate all wielders of political power.  According to Soros’s world view, the enemy is not only such power wielders as Hitler and Stalin, but also Churchill, George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling W a modern-day Churchill, though some of his speeches have been Churchillian.  I am only saying that Soros cannot distinguish between power pursuing evil ends and power pursuing largely honorable ends, however imperfectly.  Soros has little moral compass. The consummate speculator. 

And Soros portrays himself as the grand protector of “free thinking”.  He hates dogmatic thinking, such as practiced at AIPAC, he says.  My response is Shakespearean:  Thou “doth protest too much.”  Psychoanalysis tells us about “reaction formation,” which is saying or even thinking the opposite of what you’re actually feeling.  Soros is dogmatic in his hatred of power, especially the power wielded by charismatic individuals, which he is not.  He prefers to wield his power behind the scenes.

Let’s address the merits of talking to Hamas and the merits of American Jews reining in the evil AIPAC, both of which Soros calls for in his essay.  Attached is also the Hamas Covenant.  Soros argues that Hamas can be a party to a negotiated settlement with Israel on the basis of 1967 borders.  He argues that Hamas is not monolithic.  Again, gray old Europe.  Unfortunately, there are some people you cannot negotiate with.  We learned that in World War II.  They will negotiate with you when they are comparatively weak, but the contract you sign with them is worth nothing to them later when they are strong.  What means a lot to them is what they have written in their manifestos.  The Munich Agreement, the Nazi-Soviet Pact were to bring “peace in our time”, but meant nothing to the Nazis.  Read their book, Mein Kampf, for crying out loud.  It’s all there.  Read the Hamas Covenant, Mr. Schwartz, it’s all there.  I share with you the following gems from the Hamas Covenant:

 “[Hamas] strives to raise the banner over every inch of Palestine…[t]he land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf…The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him… There is no solution to the Palestinian question except through Jihad…With their [Zionists’] money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about… With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state… Egypt was, to a great extent, removed from the circle of the struggle, through the treacherous Camp David Agreement. They are trying to draw other Arab countries into similar agreements and to bring them outside the circle of struggle…  Today it is Palestine, tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying… Leaving the circle of struggle with Zionism is high treason, and cursed be he who does that… Islamic groupings all over the Arab world…are the best-equipped for the future role in the fight with the warmongering Jews…”  

This is their Covenant.  Have them repudiate it before peace negotiations, George!  Can’t you give them US$1 billion to repudiate their Covenant?

Read the book, I say, read the book.  These people can’t be dealt with.  When the Palestinians choose new leaders or these leaders fully repudiate the Covenant and accept the Quartet’s conditions, then there can be negotiation, George Soros’s moral double-vision notwithstanding.  And for the record, Israeli leaders have accepted the Saudi peace proposal as a basis for discussion.  And by the way, that plan comes from a country (Saudi Arabia) with a web site that says Jews may not travel to their country.  Jews, not Israelis.  Of course, a Jew can go to Saudi Arabia if he is invited by the government (I was invited but didn’t go).

Soros fails to identify the real problem in the Middle East.  It isn’t Israel.  It isn’t George Bush.  It isn’t US foreign policy.  It’s the Muslim world itself, which badly needs political, economic and social reform.  I’m not going to launch into a discussion of what’s wrong in that part of the world, except to say that 5000 princes rule Saudi Arabia.  Nuff said.  I will say more.  King Abdullah of Jordan and Soros (and Tony Blair for that matter) say that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is the key to solving broader Mideast problems.  It’s a smokescreen. Are Palestinians treated worse than inhabitants of Darfur, people living in Morrocco’s Western Sahara, or many others in the Muslim, and frankly non-Muslim, world?  It’s a smokescreen to avoid addressing the real, mundane problems of liberalizing a repressive society.  If King Abdullah or General Musharraf postpone or fix parliamentary elections, they can blame it on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But Soros worries more about “Whether the Democratic Party can liberate itself from AIPAC’s influence…”  Good old George Schwartz joining Mearsheimer and Walt, not in Jew-hating, but in Israel-hating.  Let me say right away that the anti-Semite epithet is used too much.  But, even though it is wrong to use it sometimes, it is somewhat understandable — after mild comments about Jews that persisted for centuries rose to a fever pitch of mass murder in the nineteen forties.  But nonetheless, we should distinguish between anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.  I am not ready to call Mearsheimer and Walt anti-Semitic (though I have my suspicions, given their reliance on arguments about overwhelming Jewish power to explain America’s pro-Israel tendencies).  But, they are clearly anti-Israel, and as such, given that I am a Zionist, they are my enemies.  Not my violent enemies, but my enemies in the battleground of ideas.  George Soros is also anti-Israel, and I must add, he appears to me to be a classic self-hating Jew.  He has even allegedly spoken about his parents’ anti-Jewish feelings and their discomfort as Hungarians with their religious roots. 

And now, the almighty Leviathan, AIPAC.  What is AIPAC?  It is a highly effective lobby.  They don’t hide it at all.  But they are like any other highly effective lobby.  They don’t hold American foreign policy hostage.  They influence it.  Others influence it too, and can influence it more by getting organized.  AIPAC supports Israel, and may do it in a way that differs with how others might support Israel.  So, these supporters of Israel should join AIPAC, give money, get on the board, have the so-called neo-cons on the staff fired and support Israel the way they want to.  Or start a different sort of Israel lobby.  By the way, they have done the latter, and Soros is funding it. 

AIPAC has been successful playing (largely) by the rules.  And the transgressors who broke the rules wound up in court.  American Jews care about Israel and many back AIPAC as a result.  Some non-Jews, including evangelicals, back AIPAC as well.  And Americans more broadly support Israel (check the polls), and you cannot explain this as simply a result of AIPAC’s influence.  To raise the AIPAC bogeyman, as the all-powerful, behind-the-scenes manipulator of US Mideast policy, while perhaps not anti-Semitic, is definitely anti-AIPAC and smacks of being a sore loser (they are winning fair and square).  Furthermore, the tone of the criticism and the degree of conspiracy-theorizing behind AIPAC-bashing does make one wonder.

Soros blames the lack of a settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict on George W. Bush.  Doing nothing, especially compared to Clinton.  George W. Bush has done a few things that other presidents have not done.  He has introduced some moral clarity into the conflict.  He has been the only US president, not to mention the only world leader, to recognize that realities on the ground mean a return to pre-1967 borders is a non-starter.  Some West Bank settlements will remain where they are.  They are large, thriving, forty-year old Israeli cities close to the Green Line.  With Palestinian terror groups and Arab armies seeking to destroy Israel for decades, you cannot assume that the situation ex ante is the starting point of negotiations.  The Arabs have to give something up, besides their determination to destroy Israel.  That may well be sovereignty over Jerusalem and some territory where large settlement blocks lie.  Clinton, quite frankly, was too eager to write himself into the history books, and to try to right the wrongs over Monica Lewinsky, by giving away half the store at Israel’s expense.

A final word on the Democratic Party.  I am (still) a Democrat.  But oh Democratic Party, please be careful who your bedfellows are, even when money is involved, even when it is Soros and his US$8 billion.  The Democracy Alliance, a Soros fund, backs the Democratic Party.  Don’t become a tool of this anarchist, oh Democratic Party, this promoter of moral relativity, this behind-the-scenes manipulator, this hater of power even when this power is wielded for good.

If you got this far, thank you for indulging me this rant.  I should learn to blog.  Feel free to pass it on.  Note the links.

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Soros article…

January 22, 2008

Opinion piece by Soros in today’s FT arguing why the contraction of credit
is likely to continue.  Interesting point on the limits of monetary policy.  Like Krugman, when he sticks to economics, he’s not half-bad.

The worst market crisis in 60 years

By George Soros

Published: January 22 2008 19:57 | Last updated: January 22 2008 19:57

The current financial crisis was precipitated by a bubble in the US housing
market. In some ways it resembles other crises that have occurred since the
end of the second world war at intervals ranging from four to 10 years.

However, there is a profound difference: the current crisis marks the end
of an era of credit expansion based on the dollar as the international
reserve currency. The periodic crises were part of a larger boom-bust
process. The current crisis is the culmination of a super-boom that has
lasted for more than 60 years.

Boom-bust processes usually revolve around credit and always involve a bias
or misconception. This is usually a failure to recognise a reflexive,
circular connection between the willingness to lend and the value of the
collateral. Ease of credit generates demand that pushes up the value of
property, which in turn increases the amount of credit available. A bubble
starts when people buy houses in the expectation that they can refinance
their mortgages at a profit. The recent US housing boom is a case in point.
The 60-year super-boom is a more complicated case.

Every time the credit expansion ran into trouble the financial authorities
intervened, injecting liquidity and finding other ways to stimulate the
economy. That created a system of asymmetric incentives also known as moral
hazard, which encouraged ever greater credit expansion. The system was so
successful that people came to believe in what former US president Ronald
Reagan called the magic of the marketplace and I call market
fundamentalism. Fundamentalists believe that markets tend towards
equilibrium and the common interest is best served by allowing participants
to pursue their self-interest. It is an obvious misconception, because it
was the intervention of the authorities that prevented financial markets
from breaking down, not the markets themselves. Nevertheless, market
fundamentalism emerged as the dominant ideology in the 1980s, when
financial markets started to become globalised and the US started to run a
current account deficit.

Globalisation allowed the US to suck up the savings of the rest of the
world and consume more than it produced. The US current account deficit
reached 6.2 per cent of gross national product in 2006. The financial
markets encouraged consumers to borrow by introducing ever more
sophisticated instruments and more generous terms. The authorities aided
and abetted the process by intervening whenever the global financial system
was at risk. Since 1980, regulations have been progressively relaxed until
they have practically disappeared.

The super-boom got out of hand when the new products became so complicated
that the authorities could no longer calculate the risks and started
relying on the risk management methods of the banks themselves. Similarly,
the rating agencies relied on the information provided by the originators
of synthetic products. It was a shocking abdication of responsibility.

Everything that could go wrong did. What started with subprime mortgages
spread to all collateralised debt obligations, endangered municipal and
mortgage insurance and reinsurance companies and threatened to unravel the
multi-trillion-dollar credit default swap market. Investment banks’
commitments to leveraged buyouts became liabilities. Market-neutral hedge
funds turned out not to be market-neutral and had to be unwound. The
asset-backed commercial paper market came to a standstill and the special
investment vehicles set up by banks to get mortgages off their balance
sheets could no longer get outside financing. The final blow came when
interbank lending, which is at the heart of the financial system, was
disrupted because banks had to husband their resources and could not trust
their counterparties. The central banks had to inject an unprecedented
amount of money and extend credit on an unprecedented range of securities
to a broader range of institutions than ever before. That made the crisis
more severe than any since the second world war.

Credit expansion must now be followed by a period of contraction, because
some of the new credit instruments and practices are unsound and
unsustainable. The ability of the financial authorities to stimulate the
economy is constrained by the unwillingness of the rest of the world to
accumulate additional dollar reserves. Until recently, investors were
hoping that the US Federal Reserve would do whatever it takes to avoid a
recession, because that is what it did on previous occasions. Now they will
have to realise that the Fed may no longer be in a position to do so. With
oil, food and other commodities firm, and the renminbi appreciating
somewhat faster, the Fed also has to worry about inflation. If federal
funds were lowered beyond a certain point, the dollar would come under
renewed pressure and long-term bonds would actually go up in yield. Where
that point is, is impossible to determine. When it is reached, the ability
of the Fed to stimulate the economy comes to an end.
Although a recession in the developed world is now more or less inevitable,
China, India and some of the oil-producing countries are in a very strong
countertrend. So, the current financial crisis is less likely to cause a
global recession than a radical realignment of the global economy, with a
relative decline of the US and the rise of China and other countries in the
developing world.

The danger is that the resulting political tensions, including US
protectionism, may disrupt the global economy and plunge the world into
recession or worse.

The writer is chairman of Soros Fund Management