Swallowing Soros hook, line and sinker

Philip Fernando

For George Soros Sri Lanka is ready to be plucked and diverted away from the Chinese orbit. To the Sri Lankan national electorate, saddled with a recent mandate overtly lope-sided with a Northern tilt and needing a durability strategy, Soros seems to offer a way out. He has been loud and clear: “Given the decisive role that international financial capital plays in the fortunes of individual countries, it is not inappropriate to speak of a global capitalist system:” — so the current Sri Lankan leadership has nothing to lose in grabbing Soros hook, line and sinker—at least a good section of the Maithripala-Ranil coalition led by Ranil in particular is ready. Would Soros  provide an apolitical answer to ethnic impasse?  We will know for sure once the Soros ideas got circulated

SOROS-spectator.org Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Soros is capitalistic but pushes his own brand. Soros sees himself as continuing the political philosophy of Karl Popper. As expounded in books such as The Open Society and Its Enemies Popper argued against the notion going for a “perfect” society in favour of accepting an “open” society as one subject to permanent improvement by piecemeal social engineering, by which he understood capitalism with a political structure involving elected institutions, the rule of law and pluralism, i.e. more or less what the West has had for years.

 This is how Soros felt. He agrees with a distinction made by one school of anti-imperialist thinkers in the 1970s and 80s, to diivide the “global capitalist system” into a centre (US, Western Europe, Japan) and a periphery (Asia, Latin America, Russia, East Europe, Africa). In that set up, capital flows from the centre to the periphery and back, arguably to the mutual benefit of both. He sees the danger of disintegration coming from countries on the periphery taking steps to stop the free flow of capital in a bid to avoid the negative effects of the system’s instability on their economies and populations. Soros may have perceived Sri Lanka to be at that stage now.

He has stated often that ““To put it bluntly, the choice confronting us is whether we will regulate global financial markets internationally or leave it to each individual state to protect its own interests as best it can. The latter course will surely lead to the breakdown of the gigantic circulatory system, which goes under the name of global capitalism” .

So what Soros see as unacceptable is the potential for states adopting measures to impede free movement of free capital—that is dubbed the “breakdown” or “disintegration” of global capitalism and not necessarily of the collapse of the world-wide system of production for profit based on the exploitation of wage labour. Soros is no left-wing prophet even though he is not with the far Right theorists espousing unbridled capitalism.

Soros is setting up of global institutions created to lay down some basic ground rules for the operation of global capitalism. Hard core economic thinking may need a change  The hard core economic thinking so far within the Ranil group of the Sri Lankan coalition is at the cross roads trying o arrive at a sustainable economic trajectory–different to what Soros had described as “market fundamentalists”, the followers of Von Mises, Von Hayek and others, who advocate that market forces be given complete free rein and who came into intellectual prominence in the time of Reagan and Thatcher.

Soros disagrees with the notion that markets have an in-built tendency towards creating a stable situation through supply and demand being in balance—not so say Soros. Second, Soros does not believe that  they preach that the market is the best way to regulate all human activities—an antidote to the ingrained positions held by a substantial anti-UNP thinking in Sri Lanka.

Soros’s equilibrium: Soros believes that ‘Market fundamentalists’ have a fundamentally flawed conception that financial markets tend towards equilibrium. He had stated “Financial markets are characterized by booms and busts and it is quite amazing that economic theory continues to rely on the concept of equilibrium, which denies the possibility of these phenomena, in face of the evidence. The potential for disequilibrium is inherent in the financial system; it is not just the result of external shocks”

Soros thinking is as follows (as gathered from reading his analyses). The external shocks which the market fundamentalists invoke are usually, of course, government interventions of one sort or another. According to them, if governments just stood aside and let the rhythm of the market operate, there would be no slumps just continuous, smooth growth. But there is no evidence for this.

Laissez-faire policies: Throughout the 19th century British governments pursued a policy of laissez-faire yet slumps still occurred on a regular basis. The fact is that the market system does have a built-in tendency towards creating booms and busts rather than stability and smooth growth. As Marx pointed out, this applies to the real world of market-oriented production and not just to financial markets. Soros is even prepared to give Marx some credit here: “… the capitalist system by itself shows no tendency toward equilibrium. The owners of capital seek to maximise their profits. Left to their own devices, they would continue to accumulate capital until the situation became unbalanced. Marx and Engels gave a very good analysis of the capitalist system 150 years ago, better in some ways, I must say, than the equilibrium theory of classical economics”.

Countervailing political interventions: Soros argues, however, that thanks to “countervailing political interventions in democratic countries” Marx’s “dire predictions did not come true”. This is based on a misunderstanding of Marx’s view. The “dire predictions” that Soros mentions were not, as he seems to assume, that the unregulated profit-seeking of capitalists would lead to the collapse of the capitalist system but simply that their competitive struggle for profits meant that steady, smooth growth was impossible and that growth proceeded by means of booms and slumps.

Capitalism has not collapsed because it was never going to, not because of government intervention Marx didn’t foresee. And government intervention has not been able to eliminate the boom/slump cycle which Marx saw was an unavoidable feature of capitalism.

Tiptoeing marketization: Soros agrees with Karl Popper that the main enemies of his “open society” were the totalitarian ideologies of fascism and “Marxism” (which, for him, was not just Marx’s own views but those mixed up with Lenin’s and Stalin’s). Soros adds a third which he says has come into prominence since the collapse of “communism”: uncontrolled capitalism. Hence the subtitle of his book “Open Society Endangered“, though he had already expressed this view in a famous article “The Capitalist Threat” that first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1997 and which was widely reproduced.

Moral and family values versus capitalism: Soros sees the danger coming from the penetration of market values into all aspects of life, leading to social disintegration. “Monetary values”, he writes, “have usurped the role of intrinsic values and markets have come to dominate areas of society where they do not properly belong”. He is in fact quite forceful in his criticism of this aspect of global capitalism:

“The functions that cannot and should not be governed purely by market forces include many of the most important things in human life, ranging from moral values to family relationships to aesthetic and intellectual achievements. Yet market fundamentalism is constantly attempting to extend its sway into these regions, in a form of ideological imperialism. According to market fundamentalism, all social activities and human interactions should be looked at as transactional, contract-based relationships and valued in terms of a single common denominator, money. Activities should be regulated, as far as possible, by nothing more intrusive than the invisible hand of profit-maximising competition. The incursions of market ideology into fields far outside business and economics are having destructive and demoralizing social effects”.

“A transactional society undermines social values and loosens moral constraints. Social values express a concern for others. They imply that the individual belongs to a community, be it a family, a tribe, a nation, or humankind, whose interests must take precedence over the individual’s self-interests. But a transactional market economy is anything but a community. Everybody must look out for his or her own interests and moral scruples can become an encumbrance in a dog-eat-dog world. In a purely transactional society, people who are not weighed down by any considerations for others can move around more easily and are likely to come out ahead” .

Soros does not realise just how fundamental a criticism of capitalism this is. Although he rightly says that “a purely transactional society” — in which the only links between people would be monetary — “could never exist”, the market fundamentalists are equally right to insist that the logic of capitalism is to work towards this. They are just crazy in thinking that this nightmare situation is the ideal form of society.

Soros’s mistake is to think that you can have capitalism and somehow keep its money-commodity relations from spreading everywhere. The history of capitalism is the history of the continuous spread of such transactional relationships-i.e., the market-into more and more fields of human activity. It is a process that cannot be stopped within capitalism as growing marketisation is just as much a feature of capitalism as capital accumulation; indeed the two go together.

Soros, however, is a supporter of capitalism: “I want to make it clear that I do not want to abolish capitalism. In spite of its shortcomings, it is better than the alternatives. Instead, I want to prevent the global capitalist system from destroying itself”

 ***   Soros profile gathered from published sources.


* Emily Zanetti: “Georgs Soros, Wealth Redistribution Advocate owes a lot in Back taxes,”  30 April 2015, http://spectator.org/blog/62570/george-soros-wealth-redistribution-advocate-owes-lot-back-taxes

ADDENDUM, 17 February 2016: = video presentation on George Soros = https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#inbox/152e5fcf0be8e81b?projector=1  perhaps a hatchet job? This is a right-wing rant and a hatchet job but should not be entirely discounted on this count.



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