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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 29, 2004 16 years ago

Meeting Soros

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The Argus Foundation event with the anti-Bush billionaire focused on economics and politics.

Meeting Soros

The Argus Foundation event with the anti-Bush billionaire focused on economics and politics.

By Sean Roth

Real Estate Editor

George Soros, the oft-maligned Bush- bashing billionaire, gave his take on economics, foreign policy and the war to the politically mixed crowd at The Argus Foundationis recent question-and-answer session with the groupis Executive Director Kerry Kirschner.

Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC, leads contributors to anti-Bush groups. He was the single biggest contributor to 527 organizations, giving $23.7 million to Democratic-leaning groups such as America Coming Together and Moveon.org, which are working to defeat Bush, according to Bloomberg News Service.

At the Oct. 20 event at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, Sorosi comments focused more on his position as chairman of the Open Society Institute, a network of philanthropic organizations dedicated to building and maintaining the infrastructure and institutions of an open society.

Asked if his recent partisanship has negatively affected his foundation, Soros argued his foundation is nonpartisan, but not necessarily nonpolitical.

iWe can do the best work in those countries where we can work with the government,i Soros says. iBecause, after all, governments are very powerful and influential and we can help them achieve ... But in other places, it is also very important to have a group of people who stand up for certain principles, very often against a government that is oppressive or that is inept or corrupt. For instance we have recently been expelled from Uzbekistan. ... It is a great loss, but it was right to stand up for those principles even at the cost of being expelled.i

On the issue of 527 organizations, Soros de-emphasized his relationship with Moveon.org, saying he gave it $2.5 million in a challenge grant, and he has no control over the organization. He took specific exception to the grouping together of 527 organizations.

iYou have to distinguish, letis say, between the Swift Boat (Veterans for Truth) people and Moveon,i Soros says. iBecause the Swift Boat people have no regard for truth. Moveon is confined o constrained by the truth, and if they werenit I wouldnit support them.i

Soros quoted his mentor Karl Popper who says that scientific truth can never be proven, but it can be contradicted.

iThe foundation of an open society like ours is that we may be wrong, that our fallacies may be wrong, and we must be open to that possibility and then change course ... We now have a president who simply doesnit seem to accept the possibility that we may be wrong,i he says. iAnd he has been encouraged in this belief by the terrorist attack of 9/11. ... (T)here you have an enemy that is obviously evil and that makes him think that whatever we do is automatically right. And thatis where heis making a mistake.i

One of the more surprising revelations of the session came when Kirschner asked if Soros would have supported the war in Iraq if it had been to establish a base in the Middle East in anticipation of an extreme Islamic government taking hold in Saudi Arabia.

iTo have a firm base in the Middle East, that is a legitimate objective,i he says. iBut the way we went about it, we achieved the opposite. Even if that was the objective, it was messed up; it was badly done. We are much much worse off ... And in terms of being able to project power in Middle East or anywhere else in the world we have actually lost it.i

In the next exchange, Soros cited the United Statesi trade and budget deficits as unhealthy for the economy, though, ultimately neither deficit will have much of an effect in the near-term.

iRunning a budget deficit in a recession is a good thing,i he says. iI am a Keynesian in that respect. It doesnit hurt us as long as we have idle resources. It will hurt us the moment the economy begins to pick up because then interest rates are going to go up very sharply and stop the recovery. So that will mean a state of a stop-go economy, which is characteristic of Great Britain in the i60s and i70s. That means that the rate of real growth will be slower than it otherwise would have been. The moment we finally get going, interest rates will go up, and it will bring about a slowdown. It wonit be a crisis. It will be just what I call stop-go, substandard growth.i

Soros explained why he says the administrationis current stance is America-centered.

iI call them neocons, but it is actually a misnomer, because there is nothing neo about (Dick) Cheney,i Soros says. iThese people have an ideology about international relations, which is that international relations are relations of power. That international law merely ratifies what power has accomplished. Since we are the sole remaining superpower, we are not using our power sufficiently. We are not influencing our will on the world. We have to be more aggressive. This is what President Bush has translated into spreading freedom in the world. He has this great belief that we are going to bring freedom. And then he says, eFreedom will prevail.i Basically what he means is America will prevail.i

Soros asserts that the correct method for America to address international imperfections is in a coalition with other countries.

iI would like to see an alliance of developing democracies: Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Indonesia, Korea and so on,i he says. iAn alliance of developing democracies, independent of us, would create this grand alliance with us and with Europe. And then together they would be a majority in the United Nations and that would make the United Nations work better. But at the same time you would have a discussion or negotiations between equal parties on issues that divide.i

To counter what he sees as a natural resource curse, Soros supports government accountability through the disclosure of oil money resources. iIt is very important that these (oil-rich)counties develop democratically,i he says. iAnd we have the ability to influence that development. ... We have a campaign called iPublish what You Payi demanding that the oil companies disclose how much they give to a country like Angola or Nigeria. Then you can hold the governments responsible. ... It puts pressure on the countries that have oil to be accountable to their people for how they spend their money.i

On the topic of nuclear proliferation, Soros contends the Bush Doctrine has encouraged recent moves by North Korea and Iran.

iNow, there is a great incentive for any country that can to acquire nuclear weapons, because then the Bush Doctrine does not apply to them.i he says. iWe canit impose our will on North Korea, because they have six or eight nuclear weapons. Iran, if it can get nuclear weapons, will no longer be subject to pressure from us.i

When asked about the future of Russia, Soros painted a dark picture of a Russian controlled region under what he calls ithe death hand of bureaucracy that will hinder economic and political development.i

Overall, Kirschner says he was pleased with the event.

iHe was very charming off stage,i Kirschner says. i I have more people calling now saying they didnit expect to enjoy it as much as they did. I think itis great to have intellectual disagreement. The one unanswered question I would have asked him is: eDoes he have political ambitions for serving in a Kerry cabinet?i i

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