George Soros —— the financial crocodile
George Soros wants to be the Bono of the financial world. The speculator whose assault on sterling ejected Britain from the European exchange rate mechanism that September of 10 years ago has a mission－－to use his esti－mated ￡5 bn fortune and his fame to help tackle what he sees as the failures of globalisation. The idea that a man who made billions betting on the financial markets sides with the anti－globalisation movement might strike some as ironic. Soros is clearly genuinely appalled at the damage wrought on vulnerable economies by the vast sums of money which flow across national borders every day.
"The US governs the international system to protect its own economy. It is not in charge of protecting other economies, "he says. "So when America goes into recession, you have anti－recessionary policies. When other countries are in recession, they don't have the ability to engage in anti－recessionary policies because they can't have a permissive monetary policy, because money would flee. "In person, he has the air of a philosophy professor rather than a gimlet－eyed financier. In a soft voice which bears the traces of his native Hungary, he argues that it is time to rewrite the so－called Washington consensus－－the cocktail of liberalisation, privatisation and fiscal rectitude which the IMF has been preaching for 15 years. Developing countries no longer have the freedom to run their own economies, he argues, even when they follow perfectly sound policies. He cites Brazil, which although it has a floating currency and manageable public debt was paying ten times over the odds to borrow from capital markets.
Soros, who at one stage after the fall of the Berlin Wall was providing more assistance to Russia than the US government, believes in practising what he preaches.His Open Society Institute has been pivotal in helping eastern European countries develop democratic societies and market economies. Soros has the advantage of an insider's knowledge of the workings of global capitalism, so his criticism is particularly pointed. Last year, the Soros foundation's network spent nearly half a billion dollars on projects in education, public health and promoting democracy, making it one of the world's largest private donors.
Soros credits the anti－globalisation movement for having made companies more sensitive to their wider responsibilities."I think [the protesters] have made an important contribution by making people aware of the flaws of the system, "he says."People on the street had an impact on public opinion and corporations which sell to the public responded to that."Because the IMF has abandoned billion dollar bailouts for troubled economies, he thinks a repeat of the Asian crisis is unlikely.The fund's new"tough love"policy－－for which Argentina is the guinea pig －－ has other consequences. The bailouts were a welfare system for Wall Street, with western taxpayers rescuing the banks from the consequences of unwise lending to emerging economies. Now the IMF has drawn a line in the sand, credit to poor countries is drying up."It has created a new problem－－the inadequacy of the flow of capital from centre to the periphery, " he says.
The one economy Soros is not losing any sleep about is the US."I am much more positive about the underlying economy than I am about the market, because we are waging war not only terrorism but also on recession, "he says."Although we don't admit it, we are actually applying Keynesian remedies, and I am a confirmed Keynesian. I have not yet seen an economy in recession when you are gearing up for war."He worries that the world's largest economic power is not living up to its responsibilities."I would like the United States to live up to the responsibilities of its hegemonic power because it is not going to give up its hegemonic power, "he says."The only thing that is realistic is for the United States to become aware that it is in its enlightened self－interest to ensure that the rest of the world benefits from their role."