The epic, slow-motion crisis unraveling the global economic system continues to gather momentum, taking down Southeast Asia, Japan, Russia, now Brazil. Who’s next? The cross-hairs are targeting Germany and other European economies, China and the irrational exuberance under way in the US stock market. Since our political leaders refuse to face this crisis honestly and explain the confusing drift of events, citizens must turn to unauthorized loners like George Soros to understand the portents for global catastrophe.
This book, of course, cannot be separated from who the man is–the rogue financier admired, feared, reviled on every continent–because George Soros as author clearly, even poignantly, wishes to become more than his awesome wealth and reputation. The sober tone and didactic discourse reveal a statesman-thinker yearning to be recognized as such. I think, on the whole, this brave book entitles him to that status, despite some obvious evasions and pretensions.
Before he tells us how to save the world from economic ruin, Soros insists on first teaching the elementary philosophy of his worldview–reiterating themes of the Enlightenment and the “open society” values he learned as a young man from Karl Popper. As he has done before, the financier explains with urbane detachment and elegant abstraction the actual secret of his success: When others became enthralled by Milton Friedman, Soros remained the confident nonbeliever. He always saw the illogic of market theory and regularly bet against it.
Readers may experience growing impatience with his teaching style, since what we really wish to hear from Soros are the bloody, insider details of how he broke the Bank of England or why he lost $2 billion last summer in Russia. The pedantry invites ridicule, and Soros has gotten some from learned reviewers. It does sound arrogant for this man, of all people, to play omniscient professor offering to teach us universal values for a global society.
In addition to money, Soros has accumulated a mogul’s share of egotism, and it is unfortunately embedded in his prose style. The manner of delivery–important insights unintentionally rendered to sound bromidic–is complicated by his Eastern European sense of paradox. He steps on his own lines, muddies his central points with too-frequent reminders that every idea is inherently flawed, every reform is bound to fail eventually and even George Soros is fallible. These disclaimers are true, of course, but will tempt a reader to skip ahead to the second half, “The Present Moment in History,” where Soros outlines his program for reforming the global system before it is too late.
I would urge patience and respectful attention to what this man is saying, all of it. It is an important book for this confused moment in economic history, and Soros is a rare voice, willing to risk his own legendary status and speak directly, authentically, to the crisis before us. Put aside any residual biases; you will learn much from him.
We have arrived at a watershed in economic thought. The reigning conservative orthodoxy is breaking down, crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions, smashed by the realities of disorder and suffering that laissez-faire principles are generating. Soros fully understands the intellectual origins of “economic disintegration,” while US governing elites and the economics profession remain in denial.