The Soros "Threat"

"I now fear that the untrammeled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society….After the failure of communism there came a general disillusionment with universal concepts, and the open society is a universal concept.…Too much competition and too little cooperation can cause intolerable inequities and instability. Insofar as there is a dominant belief in our society today, it is a belief in the magic of the marketplace. The doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism holds that the common good is best served by the uninhibited pursuit of self-interest. Unless it is tempered by the recognition of a common interest that ought to take precedence over particular interests, our present system - which, however imperfect, qualifies as an open society - is liable to break down."

- George Soros, "The Capitalist Threat," the cover story of The Atlantic Monthly, February, 1997

by Carter B. Horsley

The 11-page article by financier George Soros in The Atlantic Monthly is a remarkable document because of its impressive erudition, impassioned but sober reasoning, and the fact that Soros was proverbially cutting his own throat.

Greatly influenced by the writings of Austrian philosopher Karl Popper (who published "The Open Society" in 1945), Soros offers a brilliant epistemological essay into the dilemmas of unfettered political and economic beliefs. His insights are not unlike those of Fred J. Cook's article in The Nation a generation ago about "The Corrupt Society," C. Wright Mills' investigation of "The Power Elite," and other realpolitik analyses by Gaetano Mosca, among others.

But Soros is not interested in political theory per se as much as he is passionately observant of social and cultural vacuums and their concomitant inexorableness.

His comments are a devastating and intelligent indictment of the oversimplification that passes for -ism infallibility and he cogently argues for a sophisticated understanding of the self-predictability and "reflexivity" of markets: "Accepting the unattainable character of truth offers a better prospect for freedom and prosperity than denying it….Given the reflexive connection between thinking and reality, truth is not indispensable for success."

He concludes that "Where reason has failed, fallibility may yet succeed."

Surprisingly, Soros' essay has not unleashed a firestorm of protest. Rob Norton weighed in with a snide, one-page dismissal of his philosophy in the March 17, 1997, issue of Fortune Magazine, describing his arguments as "wacky and weak" and calling the article "a rodomontade of sloppy thinking."

Deep thinking would be more like it and not at all the "Deep Thoughts" of "Saturday Night Live".

In this contradictory era of downsizing and global reaching, of widening gaps between the rich and poor, social breakthroughs and breakups, deconstruction and blockbuster thrillers, Soros' common sense message about excesses is an important and provocative tonic for both the left and the right.

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