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George Soros, Hon FBA (/ˈsɔːrs/,[4] /ˈsɔːrɒs/; Hungarian: Soros György, pronounced [ˈʃoroʃ ˈɟørɟ]; born György Schwartz,[1][2] August 12, 1930) is a Hungarian-American[a] investor, business magnate, philanthropist, and author.[7][8] Soros is one of the world's most successful investors.[9][10][11] As of October 2017, he had a net worth of $8 billion.[12]

George Soros
George Soros 47th Munich Security Conference 2011 crop.jpg
Soros at the 2011 Munich Security Conference
Born György Schwartz[1][2]
(1930-08-12) August 12, 1930 (age 87)
Budapest, Hungary
Citizenship Hungary, United States[3]
Alma mater London School of Economics
Occupation Investor, hedge fund manager, author, and philanthropist
Known for Managing Soros Fund Management
Founding the Open Society Foundations
Advising the Quantum Fund
Net worth US$8 billion (Oct 2017)
Spouse(s) Annaliese Witschak
(m. 1960; div. 1983)

Susan Weber
(m. 1983; div. 2005)

Tamiko Bolton
(m. 2013)
Children 5, including Jonathan and Alexander
Relatives Paul Soros (brother)
Website www.georgesoros.com

Born in Budapest, he survived Nazi Germany-occupied Hungary and emigrated to England in 1947. He attended the London School of Economics graduating with a bachelor's and eventually a master's in philosophy. He began his business career by taking various jobs at merchant banks in England and then the United States, before starting his first hedge fund, Double Eagle, in 1969. Profits from his first fund furnished the seed money to start Soros Fund Management, his second hedge fund, in 1970. Double Eagle was renamed the Quantum Fund and was the principal firm Soros advised. At its founding, the Quantum Fund had $12 million in assets under management, and as of 2011 it had $25 billion, the majority of his overall net worth.[13] He is known as "The Man Who Broke the Bank of England" because of his short sale of US$10 billion worth of Pound sterling, making him a profit of $1 billion during the 1992 Black Wednesday UK currency crisis.[14][15]

His early studies of philosophy led him to develop and apply Karl Popper's General Theory of Reflexivity to capital markets, which he claims renders him a clear picture of asset bubbles and fundamental/market value of securities, as well as value discrepancies used for shorting and swapping stocks.[16]

He is a well-known supporter of American progressive and American liberal political causes and dispenses his donations through his foundation, the Open Society Foundations.[17] Between 1979 and 2011, Soros donated more than $11 billion to various philanthropic causes;[18][19] by 2017, his donations "on civil initiatives to reduce poverty and increase transparency, and on scholarships and universities around the world" totaled $12 billion.[20] He played a significant role in the peaceful transition from communism to capitalism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s,[14] and provided one of Europe's largest higher education endowments to the Central European University in his hometown.[21] His political philanthropy has made him a "bugaboo of European nationalists."[22]

Contents

Early life and education

Soros was born in Budapest in the Kingdom of Hungary to a well-to-do non-observant Jewish family, who, like many upper-middle class Hungarian Jews at the time, were uncomfortable with their roots. Soros has wryly described his home as a Jewish antisemitic home.[23] His mother Erzsébet (also known as Elizabeth) came from a family that owned a thriving silk shop. His father Tivadar (also known as Teodoro) was a lawyer[24] and had been a prisoner of war during and after World War I until he escaped from Russia and rejoined his family in Budapest.[25][26] The two married in 1924. Tivadar was an Esperantist writer and taught Soros to speak Esperanto in his childhood.[27] In 1936 Soros's family changed their name from the German-Jewish Schwartz to Soros, as protective camouflage in increasingly antisemitic Hungary.[28][29] Tivadar liked the new name because it is a palindrome and because of its meaning. In Hungarian, soros means "next in line," or "designated successor"; in Esperanto it means "will soar."[30]

Soros was 13 years old in March 1944 when Nazi Germany occupied Hungary.[31] Jewish children were barred from attending school by the Nazis, and Soros and the other schoolchildren were made to report to the Judenrat ("Jewish Council") which had been established during the occupation. Soros later described this time to writer Michael Lewis: "The Jewish Council asked the little kids to hand out the deportation notices. I was told to go to the Jewish Council. And there I was given these small slips of paper.... I took this piece of paper to my father. He instantly recognized it. This was a list of Hungarian Jewish lawyers. He said, "You deliver the slips of paper and tell the people that if they report they will be deported."[32][33]

Soros did not return to that job; his family purchased documents to say that they were Christians, thereby allowing them to survive the war. Later that year at age 14, Soros posed as the Christian godson of an official of the collaborationist Hungarian government's Ministry of Agriculture, who himself had a Jewish wife in hiding. On one occasion, rather than leave the 14 year old alone, the official took Soros with him while he inventoried a rich Jewish family's estate, though Soros did not take part. Tivadar not only saved his immediate family but also many other Hungarian Jews, and George would later write that 1944 had been "the happiest [year] of his life," for it had given him the opportunity to witness his father's heroism.[34][35] In 1945, Soros survived the Siege of Budapest in which Soviet and German forces fought house to house through the city.

In 1947, Soros immigrated to England and became a student at the London School of Economics.[36] While a student of the philosopher Karl Popper, Soros worked as a railway porter and as a waiter. Soros received £40 from a Quaker charity.[37] In a discussion at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in 2006, Alvin Shuster, former foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, asked Soros, "How does one go from an immigrant to a financier? ... When did you realize that you knew how to make money?" Soros replied, "Well, I had a variety of jobs and I ended up selling fancy goods on the seaside, souvenir shops, and I thought, that's really not what I was cut out to do. So, I wrote to every managing director in every merchant bank in London, got just one or two replies, and eventually that's how I got a job in a merchant bank."[38] That job was an entry-level position in Singer & Friedlander.

Soros earned a Bachelor of Science in philosophy in 1951, and a Master of Science in philosophy in 1954, both from the London School of Economics.[39]

Investment career

Early business experience

After graduating, Soros found it difficult to get work, and settled for a job as a traveling salesman for a fancy-goods wholesaler selling to retailers in Welsh seaside resorts. He described this period as the "low point of my life," and wrote letters to a number of merchant banks requesting interviews. Many of these ignored him, and others humiliated him in the interviews. He credits his acceptance at Singer and Friedlander to the fact that the managing director was a fellow Hungarian.[40]

Singer and Friedlander

In 1954, Soros began his financial career at the merchant bank Singer & Friedlander of London. He worked as a clerk and later moved to the arbitrage department. A fellow employee, Robert Mayer, suggested he apply at his father's brokerage house, F.M. Mayer of New York.[41]

F.M. Mayer

In 1956 Soros moved to New York City, where he worked as an arbitrage trader for F.M. Mayer (1956–59). He specialized in European stocks, which were becoming popular with U.S. institutional investors following the formation of the Coal and Steel Community, which later became the Common Market.[42]

Wertheim and Co

In 1959, after three years at F.M. Mayer, he moved to Wertheim & Co. as an analyst of European Securities, where he stayed until 1963. He planned to stay for five years, enough time to save $500,000, after which he intended to return to England to study philosophy.[43] During this period, Soros developed the theory of reflexivity based on the ideas of his tutor at the London School of Economics, Karl Popper. Reflexivity posited that market values are often driven by the fallible ideas of participants, not only by the economic fundamentals of the situation. Reflexive feedback loops are created where ideas influence events and events influence ideas. Soros further argued that this leads to markets having procyclical "virtuous or vicious" cycles of boom and bust, in contrast to the equilibrium predictions of more standard neoclassical economics."[44][45]

Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder

From 1963 to 1973, Soros's experience as a vice president at Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder resulted in little enthusiasm for the job; business was slack following the introduction of the interest equalization tax, which undermined the viability of Soros's European trading. He spent the years from 1963 to 1966 with his main focus on the revision of his philosophy dissertation. In 1966 he started a fund with $100,000 of the firm's money to experiment with his trading strategies. But he was principally motivated by a desire to assert himself as an investor to profit from his reflexivity insights.

In 1969 Soros set up the Double Eagle hedge fund with $4m of investors' capital including $250,000 of his own money.[46] It was based in Curaçao, Dutch Antilles.[47]

In 1973 the Double Eagle Fund had $12 million and formed the basis of the Soros Fund. George Soros and Jim Rogers received returns on their share of capital and 20 percent of the profits each year.[42]

Soros Fund Management

In 1970 Soros founded Soros Fund Management and became its chairman. Among those who held senior positions there at various times were Jim Rogers, Stanley Druckenmiller, Mark Schwartz, Keith Anderson, and Soros's two sons.[48][49][50]

In 1973, due to perceived conflicts of interest limiting his ability to run the two funds, Soros resigned from the management of the Double Eagle Fund. He then established the Soros Fund and gave investors in the Double Eagle Fund the option of transferring to that or staying with Arnhold and S. Bleichroeder.

It was later renamed as the Quantum Fund, named after the physical theory of quantum mechanics. By that time the value of the fund had grown to $12m, only a small proportion of which was Soros's own money. He and Jim Rogers reinvested their returns from the fund, and also a large part of their 20% performance fees, thereby expanding their stake.[41]

By 1981 the fund had grown to $400m, and then a 22% loss in that year and substantial redemptions by some of the investors reduced it to $200m.[51]

In July 2011 Soros announced that he had returned funds from outside investors' money (valued at $1 billion) and instead invested funds from his $24.5 billion family fortune, due to changes in U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure rules, which he felt would compromise his duties of confidentiality to his investors. The fund had at that time averaged over 20% per year compound returns.[52]

In 2013 the Quantum Fund made $5.5 billion, making it again the most successful hedge fund in history. Since its inception in 1973, the fund has generated $40 billion.[53]

The fund announced that it would inject $300 million to help finance the expansion of Fen Hotels, an Argentine hotel company. The funds will develop 5,000 rooms over the next three years throughout various Latin American countries.[54]

1992 pound short

Soros had been building a huge short position in pounds sterling for months leading up to September 1992. Soros had recognized the unfavorable position of the United Kingdom in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. For Soros, the rate at which the United Kingdom was brought into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism was too high, their inflation was also much too high (triple the German rate), and British interest rates were hurting their asset prices.[55]

By September 16, 1992, Black Wednesday, Soros's fund had sold short more than $10 billion in pounds,[48] profiting from the UK government's reluctance to either raise its interest rates to levels comparable to those of other European Exchange Rate Mechanism countries or float its currency.

Finally, the UK withdrew from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, devaluing the pound. Soros's profit on the bet was estimated at over $1 billion.[56] He was dubbed "the man who broke the Bank of England."[57] The estimated cost of Black Wednesday to the UK Treasury was £3.4 billion.[58]

On October 26, 1992, The Times quoted Soros as saying: "Our total position by Black Wednesday had to be worth almost $10 billion. We planned to sell more than that. In fact, when Norman Lamont said just before the devaluation that he would borrow nearly $15 billion to defend sterling, we were amused because that was about how much we wanted to sell."

Stanley Druckenmiller, who traded under Soros, originally saw the weakness in the pound and stated: "[Soros's] contribution was pushing him to take a gigantic position."[59][60]

In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, the prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad, accused Soros of using the wealth under his control to punish the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for welcoming Myanmar as a member. Following on a history of antisemitic remarks, Mahathir made specific reference to Soros's Jewish background ("It is a Jew who triggered the currency plunge"[61]) and implied Soros was orchestrating the crash as part of a larger Jewish conspiracy. Nine years later, in 2006, Mahathir met with Soros and afterward stated that he accepted that Soros had not been responsible for the crisis.[62] In 1998's The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered Soros explained his role in the crisis as follows:

The financial crisis that originated in Thailand in 1997 was particularly unnerving because of its scope and severity.... By the beginning of 1997, it was clear to Soros Fund Management that the discrepancy between the trade account and the capital account was becoming untenable. We sold short the Thai baht and the Malaysian ringgit early in 1997 with maturities ranging from six months to a year. (That is, we entered into contracts to deliver at future dates Thai baht and Malaysian ringgit that we did not currently hold.) Subsequently Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia accused me of causing the crisis, a wholly unfounded accusation. We were not sellers of the currency during or several months before the crisis; on the contrary, we were buyers when the currencies began to decline—we were purchasing ringgits to realize the profits on our earlier speculation. (Much too soon, as it turned out. We left most of the potential gain on the table because we were afraid that Mahathir would impose capital controls. He did so, but much later.)[63]

In 1999, economist Paul Krugman was critical of Soros's effect on financial markets.

[N]obody who has read a business magazine in the last few years can be unaware that these days there really are investors who not only move money in anticipation of a currency crisis, but actually do their best to trigger that crisis for fun and profit. These new actors on the scene do not yet have a standard name; my proposed term is 'Soroi'.[64]

In an interview regarding the late-2000s recession, Soros referred to it as the most serious crisis since the 1930s. According to Soros, market fundamentalism with its assumption that markets will correct themselves with no need for government intervention in financial affairs has been "some kind of an ideological excess." In Soros's view, the markets' moods—a "mood" of the markets being a prevailing bias or optimism/pessimism with which the markets look at reality—"actually can reinforce themselves so that there are these initially self-reinforcing but eventually unsustainable and self-defeating boom/bust sequences or bubbles."[65]

In reaction to the late-2000s recession, he founded the Institute for New Economic Thinking in October 2009. This is a think tank composed of international economic, business, and financial experts, mandated to investigate radical new approaches to organizing the international economic and financial system.

Société Générale insider trade

In 1988, Soros was contacted by a French financier named Georges Pébereau who asked him to participate in an effort to assemble a group of investors to purchase a large number of shares in Société Générale, a leading French bank that was part of a privatization program (something instituted by the new government under Jacques Chirac).[66] Soros eventually decided against participating in the group effort opting to personally move forward with his strategy of accumulating shares in four French companies: Société Générale, as well as Suez, Paribas, and the Compagnie Générale d'Électricité. In 1989, the Commission des Opérations de Bourse (COB—the French stock exchange regulatory authority) conducted an investigation of whether Soros's transaction in Société Générale should be considered insider trading. Soros had received no information from the Société Générale and had no insider knowledge of the business, but he did possess knowledge that a group of investors was planning a takeover attempt. Initial investigations found Soros innocent and no charges were brought forward,[67] however, the case was reopened a few years later and the French Supreme Court confirmed the conviction on June 14, 2006,[68] but reduced the penalty to €940,000.[68] Soros denied any wrongdoing, saying news of the takeover was public knowledge[69] and it was documented that his intent to acquire shares of the company predated his own awareness of the takeover.[68] In December 2006 he appealed to the European Court of Human Rights on various grounds including that the 14-year delay in bringing the case to trial precluded a fair hearing.[70] On the basis of Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, stating that no person may be punished for an act that was not a criminal offense at the time that it was committed, the court agreed to hear the appeal.[71] In October 2011, the court rejected his appeal in a 4–3 decision, saying that Soros had been aware of the risk of breaking insider trading laws.[72]

Personal life

Soros has been married three times and divorced twice. In 1960 he married Annaliese Witschak. Annaliese was an ethnic German immigrant who had been orphaned during the war. Although she was not Jewish, she was well liked by Soros's parents as she had also experienced the privation and displacement brought about by World War II.[73] They divorced in 1983. They had three children:

  • Robert Daniel Soros (born 1963): The founder of the Central European University in Budapest, as well as a network of foundations in Eastern Europe. In 1992, he married Melissa Robin Schiff at the Temple Emanu-El in New York City. The Rabbi Dr. David Posner officiated the ceremony.[74]
  • Andrea Soros Colombel (born 1965): The founder and president of Trace Foundation, established in 1993 to promote the cultural continuity and sustainable development of Tibetan communities within China. She is also a founding partner and member of the board of directors of the Acumen Fund, a global venture fund that employs an entrepreneurial approach in addressing the problems of global poverty[75] She is married to Eric Colombel.
  • Jonathan Tivadar Soros (born 1970): A hedge fund manager and political donor. In 2012, he co-founded Friends of Democracy, a SuperPAC dedicated to reducing the influence of money in politics. In 1997, he married Jennifer Ann Allan.[76]

In 1983, George Soros married Susan Weber, twenty-five years his junior. They divorced in 2005. They have two children:

  • Alexander Soros (born 1985): Alexander is also gaining prominence for his donations to social and political causes, focusing his philanthropic efforts on "progressive causes that might not have widespread support."[77] Alexander serves on the boards of Jewish Funds for Justice and Global Witness, and led the list of student political donors in the 2010 election cycle.[78]
  • Gregory James Soros (born 1988), artist

In 2008, Soros met his current wife, Tamiko Bolton, 42 years his junior;[79] he married her on September 21, 2013.[80] Bolton is the daughter of a Japanese-American nurse and a retired naval commander. She was raised in California, earned an MBA from the University of Miami, and runs an Internet-based dietary supplement and vitamin-sales company.[81]

Soros's older brother Paul Soros, a private investor and philanthropist, died on June 15, 2013.[82] Also an engineer, Paul headed Soros Associates and established the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for Young Americans.[83][84] He was married to Daisy Soros (née Schlenger), who, like her husband, was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant,[85] and with whom he had two sons, Peter and Jeffrey.[86] Peter Soros was married to the former Flora Fraser, a daughter of Lady Antonia Fraser and the late Sir Hugh Fraser and a stepdaughter of the late 2005 Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter. Fraser and Soros separated in 2009.[87]

In 2005, Soros was a minority partner in a group that tried to buy the Washington Nationals, a Major League baseball team. Some Republican lawmakers suggested that they might move to revoke Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption if Soros bought the team.[88] In 2008, Soros's name was associated with AS Roma, an Italian association football team, but the club was not sold. Soros was a financial backer of Washington Soccer L.P., the group that owned the operating rights to Major League Soccer club D.C. United when the league was founded in 1995, but the group lost these rights in 2000.[89] On August 21, 2012, BBC reported SEC filings showing Soros acquired roughly a 1.9 percent stake in English football club Manchester United through the purchase of 3.1 million of the club's Class-A shares.[90]

Political involvement

Soros was not a large donor to U.S. political causes until the 2004 presidential election, but according to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the 2003–2004 election cycle, Soros donated $23,581,000 to various 527 Groups (tax-exempt groups under the United States tax code, 26 U.S.C. § 527). The groups aimed to defeat President Bush. After Bush's re-election Soros and other donors backed a new political fundraising group called Democracy Alliance, which supports progressive causes and the formation of a stronger progressive infrastructure in America.[91]

In August 2009, Soros donated $35 million to the state of New York to be earmarked for underprivileged children and given to parents who had benefit cards at the rate of $200 per child aged 3 through 17, with no limit as to the number of children that qualified. An additional $140 million was put into the fund by the state of New York from money they had received from the 2009 federal recovery act.[37]

He was an initial donor to the Center for American Progress, and he continues to support the organization through the Open Society Foundations.

In October 2011, a Reuters story, "Soros: not a funder of Wall Street protests," was published after several commentators pointed out errors in an earlier Reuters story headlined "Who's behind the Wall St. protests?" with a lede stating that the Occupy Wall Street movement "may have benefited indirectly from the largesse of one of the world's richest men [Soros]." Reuters' follow-up article also reported a Soros spokesman and Adbusters' co-founder Kalle Lasn both saying that Adbusters—the reputed catalyst for the first Occupy Wall Street protests—had never received any contributions from Soros, contrary to Reuters' earlier story that reported that "indirect financial links" existed between the two as late as 2010.[92][93]

On September 27, 2012, Soros announced that he was donating $1 million to the super PAC backing President Barack Obama's reelection Priorities USA Action.[94]

In October 2013, Soros donated $25,000 to Ready for Hillary, becoming a co-chairman of the super PAC's national finance committee.[95] In June 2015, he donated $1 million to the Super PAC Priorities USA Action, which supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. He donated $6 million to the PAC in December 2015 and $2.5 million in August 2016.[96]

Central and Eastern Europe

 
Protesters in Tbilisi with flag of the Democratic Republic of Georgia blocking the way from the Open Society Institute office, 2005

According to Waldemar A. Nielsen, an authority on American philanthropy,[97] "[Soros] has undertaken ... nothing less than to open up the once-closed communist societies of Eastern Europe to a free flow of ideas and scientific knowledge from the outside world."[98] From 1979, as an advocate of 'open societies', Soros financially supported dissidents including Poland's Solidarity movement, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union.[99] In 1984, he founded his first Open Society Institute in Hungary with a budget of $3 million.[100]

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Soros's funding has continued to play an important role in the former Soviet sphere. His funding of prodemocratic programs in Georgia was considered by Russian and Western observers to be crucial to the success of the Rose Revolution, although Soros has said that his role has been "greatly exaggerated."[101] Alexander Lomaia, Secretary of the Georgian Security Council and former Minister of Education and Science, is a former Executive Director of the Open Society Georgia Foundation (Soros Foundation), overseeing a staff of 50 and a budget of $2.5 million.[102]

Former Georgian foreign minister Salomé Zourabichvili wrote that institutions like the Soros Foundation were the cradle of democratisation and that all the NGOs that gravitated around the Soros Foundation undeniably carried the revolution. She opines that after the revolution the Soros Foundation and the NGOs were integrated into power.[103]

Some Soros-backed pro-democracy initiatives have been banned in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.[104] Ercis Kurtulus, head of the Social Transparency Movement Association (TSHD) in Turkey, said in an interview that "Soros carried out his will in Ukraine and Georgia by using these NGOs... Last year Russia passed a special law prohibiting NGOs from taking money from foreigners. I think this should be banned in Turkey as well."[105] In 1997, Soros closed his foundation in Belarus after it was fined $3 million by the government for "tax and currency violations." According to The New York Times, the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has been widely criticized in the West and in Russia for his efforts to control the Belarus Soros Foundation and other independent NGOs and to suppress civil and human rights. Soros called the fines part of a campaign to "destroy independent society."[106]

In June 2009, Soros donated $100 million to Central Europe and Eastern Europe to counter the impact of the economic crisis on the poor, voluntary groups and non-government organisations.[107]

In March 2017, six US senators sent a letter to their Secretary of State Rex Tillerson[108] asking that he look into several grants the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have given leftwing groups funded by Soros. The letter expressed specific concern about Soros' influence on Macedonian politics, a concern which has also been expressed by members of the conservative Macedonian government.[109] In the same context, Judicial Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State and USAID compelling them to release records regarding $5 million transferred from USAID to Soros' Open Society branch in Macedonia. The suit alleges that the money was deliberately used to destabilize the Macedonian government.[110]

In January 2017, the "Stop Operation Soros" (SOS) initiative was launched in Macedonia. SOS seeks to present "questions and answers about the way Soros operates worldwide" and invites citizens to contribute to the research. In a press conference held during the same month, Nenad Mircevski, one of the founders of the initiative, stated that SOS would work towards the “de-Soros-ization” of Macedonia.[111][112]

Africa

The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa is a Soros-affiliated organization.[113] Its director for Zimbabwe is Godfrey Kanyenze, who also directs the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which was the main force behind the founding of the Movement for Democratic Change, the principal indigenous organization promoting regime change in Zimbabwe.[citation needed]

Support of separatist movements

In November 2005, Soros said: "My personal opinion is there's no alternative but to give Kosovo independence."[114] Soros has helped fund the non-profit group called Independent Diplomat.[115] It represented Kosovo, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (under military occupation by Turkey since 1974),[116] Somaliland and the Polisario Front of Western Sahara.[115]

Drug policy reform

Soros has funded worldwide efforts to promote drug policy reform. In 2008, Soros donated $400,000 to help fund a successful ballot measure in Massachusetts known as the Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative which decriminalized possession of less than 1 oz (28g) of marijuana in the state. Soros has also funded similar measures in California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Nevada and Maine.[117] Among the drug decriminalization groups that have received funding from Soros are the Lindesmith Center and Drug Policy Foundation.[118] Soros donated $1.4 million to publicity efforts to support California's Proposition 5 in 2008, a failed ballot measure that would have expanded drug rehabilitation programs as alternatives to prison for persons convicted of non-violent drug-related offenses.[119]

In October 2010, Soros donated $1 million to support California's Proposition 19.[120]

According to remarks in an interview in October 2009, it is Soros's opinion that marijuana is less addictive but not appropriate for use by children and students. He himself has not used marijuana for years.[121] Soros has been a major financier of the Drug Policy Alliance – an organization that promotes cannabis legalization – with roughly $4 million in annual contributions from one of his foundations.[122]

Death and dying

The Project on Death in America, active from 1994 to 2003,[123] was one of the Open Society Institute's projects, which sought to "understand and transform the culture and experience of dying and bereavement."[124] In 1994, Soros delivered a speech in which he reported that he had offered to help his mother, a member of the Hemlock Society, commit suicide.[125] In the same speech, he also endorsed the Oregon Death with Dignity Act,[126] proceeding to help fund its advertising campaign.[127]

Political and economic views

External video
  George Soros
  The Lecture Series: Introduction, 2:56
  General Theory of Reflexivity, 52:00
  Financial Markets, 43:59
  Open Society, 43:39

  Capitalism vs. Open Society, 47:38

all by the Open Society Foundations

Reflexivity, financial markets, and economic theory

Soros's writings focus heavily on the concept of reflexivity, where the biases of individuals enter into market transactions, potentially changing the fundamentals of the economy. Soros argues that different principles apply in markets depending on whether they are in a "near to equilibrium" or a "far from equilibrium" state. He argues that, when markets are rising or falling rapidly, they are typically marked by disequilibrium rather than equilibrium, and that the conventional economic theory of the market (the 'efficient market hypothesis') does not apply in these situations. Soros has popularized the concepts of dynamic disequilibrium, static disequilibrium, and near-equilibrium conditions.[45] He has stated that his own financial success has been attributable to the edge accorded by his understanding of the action of the reflexive effect. Reflexivity is based on three main ideas:[45]

  1. Reflexivity is best observed under special conditions where investor bias grows and spreads throughout the investment arena. Examples of factors that may give rise to this bias include (a) equity leveraging or (b) the trend-following habits of speculators.
  2. Reflexivity appears intermittently since it is most likely to be revealed under certain conditions; i.e., the character of the equilibrium process is best considered in terms of probabilities.
  3. Investors' observation of and participation in the capital markets may at times influence valuations and fundamental conditions or outcomes.

A recent example of reflexivity in modern financial markets is that of the debt and equity of housing markets.[45] Lenders began to make more money available to more people in the 1990s to buy houses. More people bought houses with this larger amount of money, thus increasing the prices of these houses. Lenders looked at their balance sheets which not only showed that they had made more loans, but that the collaterals backing the loans – the value of the houses – had gone up (because more money was chasing the same amount of housing, relatively). Thus they lent out more money because their balance sheets looked good, and prices rose higher still.

This was further amplified by public policy. In the US, home loans were guaranteed by the Federal government. Many national governments saw home ownership as a positive outcome and so introduced grants for first-time home buyers and other financial subsidies, such as the exemption of a primary residence from capital gains taxation. These further encouraged house purchases, leading to further price rises and further relaxation of lending standards.

The concept of reflexivity attempts to explain why markets moving from one equilibrium state to another tend to overshoot or undershoot. Soros' theories were originally dismissed by economists,[128] but have received more attention after the 2008 crash including becoming the focus of an issue of the Journal of Economic Methodology.[129]

The notion of reflexivity provides an explanation of the theories of Complexity economics, as developed at the Santa Fe Institute, although Soros had not publicised his views at the time the discipline was originally developed there in the 1980s.[130][131][132][133]

Reflexivity in politics

Although the primary manifestation of the reflexive process that Soros discusses is its effects in the financial markets, he has also explored its effects in politics. He has stated that whereas the greatest threats to the "Open Society" in the past were from Communism and Fascism (as discussed in The Open Society and its Enemies by his mentor Karl Popper), the largest current threat is from market fundamentalism.

He has suggested that the contemporary domination of world politics and world trade by the United States is a reflexive phenomenon, insofar as the success of military and financial coercion feeds back to encourage increasingly intense applications of the same policies to the point where they will eventually become unsustainable.[134]

View of problems in the free market system

Soros argues that the current system of financial speculation undermines healthy economic development in many underdeveloped countries. He blames many of the world's problems on the failures inherent in what he characterizes as market fundamentalism.[135] Soros claims to draw a distinction between being a participant in the market and working to change the rules that market participants must follow.

Market predictions

Soros's book The New Paradigm for Financial Markets (May 2008), described a "superbubble" that had built up over the past 25 years and was ready to collapse. This was the third in a series of books he has written that have predicted disaster. As he states:

I have a record of crying wolf.... I did it first in The Alchemy of Finance (in 1987), then in The Crisis of Global Capitalism (in 1998), and now in this book. So it's three books predicting disaster. [After] the boy cried wolf three times ... the wolf really came.[136]

He ascribes his own success to being able to recognize when his predictions are wrong.

I'm only rich because I know when I'm wrong.... I basically have survived by recognizing my mistakes. I very often used to get backaches due to the fact that I was wrong. Whenever you are wrong you have to fight or [take] flight. When [I] make the decision, the backache goes away.[136]

In February 2009, Soros said the world financial system had in effect disintegrated, adding that there was no prospect of a near-term resolution to the crisis.[137] "We witnessed the collapse of the financial system.... It was placed on life support, and it's still on life support. There's no sign that we are anywhere near a bottom."

In January 2016 at an economic forum in Sri Lanka, Soros predicted a financial crisis akin to 2008 based on the state of global currency, stock and commodity markets as well as the sinking Chinese yuan.

China has a major adjustment problem. I would say it amounts to a crisis. When I look at the financial markets there is a serious challenge which reminds me of the crisis we had in 2008.[138][139]

Views on antisemitism and Israel

When asked about what he thought about Israel, in the New Yorker, Soros replied that "I don't deny the Jews to a right to a national existence – but I don't want anything to do with it."[140] According to hacked emails released in 2016, Soros' Open Society Foundation has a self-described objective of “challenging Israel’s racist and anti-democratic policies” in international forums, in part by questioning Israel’s reputation as a democracy.[141] He has funded NGOs which have been actively critical of Israeli policies.[142][143][144] including groups that campaign for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.[142]

Soros has been accused of saying that both Jews and Israel are partially responsible for antisemitism,[145] in response to his statement that the administrations of G.W. Bush in the U.S. and Ariel Sharon in Israel were stoking antisemitism. He has also said that Jews can't overcome antisemitism without "giv[ing] up on the tribalness."[146] On November 5, 2003, at a Jewish forum in New York City, Soros partially attributed a recent resurgence of antisemitism to the policies of Israel and the United States, and the role of wealthy and influential individuals:

There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that. It's not specifically anti-Semitism, but it does manifest itself in anti-Semitism as well. I'm critical of those policies... If we change that direction, then anti-Semitism also will diminish. I can't see how one could confront it directly... I'm also very concerned about my own role because the new anti-Semitism holds that the Jews rule the world... As an unintended consequence of my actions... I also contribute to that image.[145]

In a subsequent article for The New York Review of Books, Soros emphasized that

I do not subscribe to the myths propagated by enemies of Israel and I am not blaming Jews for anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism predates the birth of Israel. Neither Israel's policies nor the critics of those policies should be held responsible for anti-Semitism. At the same time, I do believe that attitudes toward Israel are influenced by Israel's policies, and attitudes toward the Jewish community are influenced by the pro-Israel lobby's success in suppressing divergent views.[147]

During a $10 billion lawsuit against Soros by Beny Steinmetz's Israeli company BSG Resources, which alleged Soros used his sway with the government of Guinea to freeze the Israeli company out of iron ore mining contracts - the lawsuit alleges that Soros' hostility to Israel is a motive for his actions: "To Soros, Steinmetz’s success, as well as his active, passionate promotion of Israeli life, business and culture are anathema,” BSGR said in the lawsuit. “Soros is also well known for his long-standing animus toward the state of Israel."[148][149][150][151]

During an award ceremony for Imre Kertész, Soros said that the victims of violence and abuse were becoming “perpetrators of violence,” suggesting that this model explained Israel's behaviour towards the Palestinians, which led to walkouts and Soros being booed.[152]

In July 2017, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement denouncing Soros. Israel's Foreign Ministry stated the Soros "continuously undermines Israel's democratically elected governments," adding that Soros funded organizations "that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself".[153]

Views on the U.S.

On November 11, 2003, in an interview with The Washington Post, Soros said that removing President George W. Bush from office was the "central focus of my life" and "a matter of life and death." He said he would sacrifice his entire fortune to defeat Bush "if someone guaranteed it."[154][155] Soros gave $3 million to the Center for American Progress, $2.5 million to MoveOn.org, and $20 million[156] to America Coming Together. These groups worked to support Democrats in the 2004 election. On September 28, 2004, he dedicated more money to the campaign and kicked off his own multistate tour with a speech: Why We Must Not Re-elect President Bush[157] delivered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The online transcript to this speech received many hits after Dick Cheney accidentally referred to FactCheck.org as "factcheck.com" in the vice presidential debate, causing the owner of that domain to redirect all traffic to Soros's site.[158]

His 2003 book, The Bubble of American Supremacy, was a forthright critique of the Bush administration's "War on Terror" as misconceived and counterproductive, and a polemic against the re-election of Bush. He explains the title in the closing chapter by pointing out the parallels in this political context with the self-reinforcing reflexive processes that generate bubbles in stock prices.

When Soros was asked in 2006 about his statement in The Age of Fallibility that "the main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States," he responded that "it happens to coincide with the prevailing opinion in the world. And I think that's rather shocking for Americans to hear. The United States sets the agenda for the world. And the rest of the world has to respond to that agenda. By declaring a 'war on terror' after September 11, we set the wrong agenda for the world.... When you wage war, you inevitably create innocent victims."[159]

Soros described Donald Trump as a con man.[160] Soros expects Trump to fail because Soros believes Trump's ideas are self-contradictory. Soros believes Trump is preparing for a trade war and expects financial markets to do badly.[161]

Views on Europe

In October 2011, Soros drafted an open letter entitled "As concerned Europeans we urge Eurozone leaders to unite,"[162] in which he calls for a stronger economic government for Europe using federal means (Common EU treasury, common fiscal supervision, etc.) and warns against the danger of nationalistic solutions to the economic crisis. The letter was co-signed by Javier Solana, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Andrew Duff, Emma Bonino, Massimo d'Alema, Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

Soros criticized Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his handling of the European migrant crisis in 2015: "His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle."[163]

Soros expects that Brexit will fail and the Premiership of Theresa May will last only a short time.[161]

Views on Asia

Soros has expressed concern about the growth of Chinese economic and political power, saying, "China has risen very rapidly by looking out for its own interests.... They have now got to accept responsibility for world order and the interests of other people as well." Regarding the political gridlock in America, he said, "Today, China has not only a more vigorous economy, but actually a better functioning government than the United States."[164] In July 2015, Soros stated that a "strategic partnership between the US and China could prevent the evolution of two power blocks that may be drawn into military conflict."[165] In January 2016, during an interview at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Soros stated that "[a] hard landing is practically unavoidable." Chinese state media responded by stating "Soros’ challenge to the RMB and Hong Kong dollar are doomed to fail, without any doubt."[166]

Views on Russia and Ukraine

In May 2014 Soros told CNN's Fareed Zakaria: "I set up a foundation in Ukraine before Ukraine became independent from Russia. And the foundation has been functioning ever since and played an important part in events now."[167]

In January 2015 Soros said that "Europe needs to wake up and recognize that it is under attack from Russia." He also urged Western countries to expand economic sanctions against Russia for its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.[168]

In January 2015, Soros called on the European Union to give $50 billion of bailout money to Ukraine.[169]

In July 2015, Soros stated that Putin's annexation of Crimea was a challenge to the "prevailing world order," specifically the European Union. He hypothesized that Putin wants to "destabilize all of Ukraine by precipitating a financial and political collapse for which he can disclaim responsibility, while avoiding occupation of a part of eastern Ukraine, which would then depend on Russia for economic support."[165] In November 2015, Russia banned the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the Open Society Institute (OSI)-- two pro-democracy charities founded by Soros—stating they posed a "threat to the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation and the security of the state."[170][171] In January 2016, 53 books related to Soros' "Renewal of Humanitarian Education" program were burned at Vorkuta Mining and Economic College in the Komi Republic with 427 additional books seized for shredding. A Russian intergovernmental letter released in December 2015 stated that Soros' charities were "forming a perverted perception of history and making ideological directives, alien to Russian ideology, popular."[172]

Wealth and philanthropy

 
George Soros speaks to the LSE alumni society in Malaysia.

As of February 2017, Forbes Magazine listed Soros as the 19th richest person in the world, the world's richest hedge-fund manager, and 19th on its list of the 400 wealthiest Americans,[173] with a net worth estimated at $25.2 billion.[174] Soros lost almost $1 billion in the weeks after the election of Republican Donald Trump as U.S. president in 2016.[175]

Soros has been active as a philanthropist since the 1970s, when he began providing funds to help black students attend the University of Cape Town in apartheid South Africa,[99] and began funding dissident movements behind the Iron Curtain.

Soros's philanthropic funding includes efforts to promote non-violent democratization in the post-Soviet states. These efforts, mostly in Central and Eastern Europe, occur primarily through the Open Society Foundations (originally Open Society Institute or OSI) and national Soros Foundations, which sometimes go under other names (such as the Stefan Batory Foundation in Poland). As of 2003, PBS estimated that he had given away a total of $4 billion.[69] The OSI says it has spent about $500 million annually in recent years.

In 2003 former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker wrote in the foreword of Soros's book The Alchemy of Finance:

George Soros has made his mark as an enormously successful speculator, wise enough to largely withdraw when still way ahead of the game. The bulk of his enormous winnings is now devoted to encouraging transitional and emerging nations to become "open societies," open not only in the sense of freedom of commerce but—more important—tolerant of new ideas and different modes of thinking and behavior.[176]

Time magazine in 2007 cited two specific projects—$100 million toward Internet infrastructure for regional Russian universities, and $50 million for the Millennium Promise to eradicate extreme poverty in Africa—noting that Soros had given $742 million to projects in the U.S., and given away a total of more than $7 billion.[177]

Other notable projects have included aid to scientists and universities throughout central and eastern Europe, help to civilians during the siege of Sarajevo, and Transparency International. Soros also pledged an endowment of €420 million to the Central European University (CEU). The Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and his microfinance bank Grameen Bank received support from the OSI.[citation needed]

According to National Review Online[178] the Open Society Institute gave $20,000 in September 2002 to the Defense Committee of Lynne Stewart, the lawyer who has defended controversial, poor, and often unpopular defendants in court and was sentenced to 2⅓ years in prison for "providing material support for a terrorist conspiracy" via a press conference for a client. An OSI spokeswoman said "it appeared to us at that time that there was a right-to-counsel issue worthy of our support" but claimed later requests for support were declined.[179]

In September 2006 Soros pledged $50 million to the Millennium Promise, led by economist Jeffrey Sachs to provide educational, agricultural, and medical aid to help villages in Africa enduring poverty. The New York Times termed this endeavor a "departure" for Soros whose philanthropic focus had been on fostering democracy and good government, but Soros noted that most poverty resulted from bad governance.[180]

Soros played a role in the peaceful transition from communism to democracy in Hungary (1984–89)[14] and provided a substantial endowment to Central European University in Budapest.[181] The Open Society Foundations has active programs in more than 60 countries around the world with total expenditures currently averaging approximately $600 million a year.[3][182]

On 17 October 2017 it was announced Soros has transferred ~$18 billion to Open Society Foundation [183]

Legacy and awards

Soros received honorary doctoral degrees from the New School for Social Research (New York), the University of Oxford in 1980, the Corvinus University of Budapest, and Yale University in 1991. He received the Yale International Center for Finance Award from the Yale School of Management in 2000[citation needed] as well as an honorary degree in economics from the University of Bologna in 1995, the oldest university in the world.[184]

In 2008, he was inducted into Institutional Investors Alpha's Hedge Fund Manager Hall of Fame along with David Swensen, Louis Bacon, Steven Cohen, Kenneth Griffin, Paul Tudor Jones, Seth Klarman, Michael Steinhardt, Jack Nash, James Simmons, Alfred Jones, Leon Levy, Julian Roberston, and Bruce Kovner.[185]

In January 2014, Soros was ranked number 1 in LCH Investments list of top 20 managers having posting gains of almost $42 billion since the launch of his Quantum Endowment Fund in 1973.[186]

In July 2017, Soros was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy (HonFBA), the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences[187].

Publications and scholarship

George Soros has written many books, articles, and papers on economics, finance, stock trading, and geopolitics.

Books authored or co-authored

Journalism

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Soros was naturalized as an American citizen on December 18, 1961.[5][6]

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Further reading

Biographies

  • Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire by Michael T. Kaufman (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002) ISBN 978-0-375-40585-3
  • Soros: The World's Most Influential Investor by Robert Slater (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2009) ISBN 978-0-07-160844-2

Journalism

Scholarly perspectives

  • Bryant, C.G.A. (2002). "George Soros's theory of reflexivity: a comparison with the theories of Giddens and Beck and a consideration of its practical value". Economy and Society. 31 (1): 112–131. doi:10.1080/03085140120109277. 
  • Cross, R.; Strachan, D. (1997). "On George Soros and economic analysis". Kyklos. 50 (4): 561–574. doi:10.1111/1467-6435.00030. 
  • Kwong, C.P. (2008). "Mathematical analysis of Soros's theory of reflexivity". arXiv:0901.4447  [q-fin.GN]. 
  • Nielsen, Waldemar A. (1996). Inside American Philanthropy: The Dramas of Donorship. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 77–82. ISBN 978-0-8061-2802-3. 
  • Pettis, Michael (2001). The Volatility Machine: Emerging Economies and the Threat of Financial Collapse. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-514330-0. 
  • Stone, Diane (2007). "Market Principles, Philanthropic Ideals and Public Service Values: The Public Policy Program at the Central European University". PS: Political Science and Politics: 545–551. 
  • Stone, Diane (2010). "Transnational Philanthropy or Policy Transfer? The Transnational Norms of the Open Society Institute". Policy and Politics. 38 (2): 269–87. doi:10.1332/030557309x458416. 

Speeches

Interviews

External links