The eternal question: Are the 1% stupid and/or evil? Soros votes for both
To Soros, the spectacular debunking of the credo of efficient markets—the notion that markets are rational and can regulate themselves to avert disaster—“is comparable to the collapse of Marxism as a political system. The prevailing interpretation has turned out to be very misleading. It assumes perfect knowledge, which is very far removed from reality [See here for a brilliant explication of this idea]. We need to move from the Age of Reason to the Age of Fallibility in order to have a proper understanding of the problems.”
Understanding, he says, is key. “Unrestrained competition can drive people into actions that they would otherwise regret. The tragedy of our current situation is the unintended consequence of imperfect understanding. A lot of the evil in the world is actually not intentional. A lot of people in the financial system did a lot of damage without intending to.” Still, Soros believes the West is struggling to cope with the consequences of evil in the financial world just as former Eastern bloc countries struggled with it politically. Is he really saying that the financial whizzes behind our economic meltdown were not just wrong, but evil? “That’s correct.”... [Excellent econobloggers like Steve Waldman seem to be converging to this point of view as well, though Waldman argues the evil is ncessary.]
Occupy Wall Street “is an inchoate, leaderless manifestation of protest,” but it will grow. It has “put on the agenda issues that the institutional left has failed to put on the agenda for a quarter of a century.” [Gee, what a coincidence. Perhaps "leaderless, inchoate" movements have something to be said for them....] He reaches for analysis, produced by the political blog ThinkProgress.org, that shows how the Occupy movement has pushed issues of unemployment up the agenda of major news organizations, including MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. It reveals that in one week in July of last year the word “debt” was mentioned more than 7,000 times on major U.S. TV news networks. By October, mentions of the word “debt” had dropped to 398 over the course of a week, while “occupy” was mentioned 1,278 times, “Wall Street” 2,378 times, and “jobs” 2,738 times. You can’t keep a financier away from his metrics.
As anger rises, riots on the streets of American cities are inevitable. “Yes, yes, yes,” he says, almost gleefully. [I doubt that. Nobody;s ever said Soros was gleeful about Nazi street thuggery, which he experienced directly.] The response to the unrest could be more damaging than the violence itself. “It will be an excuse for cracking down and using strong-arm tactics to maintain law and order, which, carried to an extreme, could bring about a repressive political system, a society where individual liberty is much more constrained, which would be a break with the tradition of the United States.”
In spite of his warnings of political turmoil in the U.S., he has no plans to engage in politics directly. “I would prefer not to be involved in party politics. It’s only because I felt that the Bush administration was misleading the country that I became involved. I was very hopeful of a new beginning with Obama, and I’ve been somewhat disappointed. I remain a supporter of the Democratic Party, but I’m fully aware of their shortcomings.” [If so, why not fund non-violence advocacy instead of the Ds?] Soros believes Obama still has a chance of winning this year’s election. “Obama might surprise the public. The main issue facing the electorate [distinct from the set of all issues] is whether the rich should be taxed more. It shouldn’t be a difficult argument for Obama to make.” [Nor was it difficult in 2009. If it were going to happen, it would already have happened.]
If there is a glimmer of hope for the world in 2012, Soros believes it lies in emerging markets. The democratic-reform movement that has spread across the Middle East, the rise of democracy and economic growth in Africa, even reform in Russia may yet drag the world out of the mire. “While the developed world is in a deep crisis, the future for the developing world is very positive. The aspiration of people for an open society is very inspiring. You have people in Africa lining up for many hours when they are given an opportunity to vote. Dictators have been overthrown. It is very encouraging for freedom and growth.”
Soros insists the key to avoiding cataclysm in 2012 is not to let the crises of 2011 go to waste. “In the crisis period, the impossible becomes possible. The European Union could regain its luster. I’m hopeful that the United States, as a political entity, will pass a very severe test and actually strengthen the institution.” Nor has he quite given up hope that the central bankers and prime ministers gathering in Davos this week have got what it takes to rally round and prove him wrong. This time, being wrong would make him happy indeed.
I think the banksters have already "rallied round" but I too, would like to be wrong.
I've always liked the work of M. Scott Peck on evil. Going nuts is an occupational hazard of studying evil, and Peck definitely went nuts, but I've returned to these passages from People of the Lie (POTL) many times:
Page 72 "The poor in spirit do not commit evil. Evil is not committed by people who feel uncertain about their righteousness, who question their own motives, who worry about betraying themselves. The evil of this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisee's of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination. It is out of their failure to put themselves on trial that their evil arises. They are, in my experience remarkably greedy people."
Page 75 "Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, they are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them. They seem to live lives that are above reproach. The words "image", "appearance" and "outwardly" are crucial to understanding the morality of 'the evil'. While they lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their goodness is all on a level of pretense. It is in effect a lie. Actually the lie is designed not so much to deceive others as to deceive themselves. We lie only when we are attempting to cover up something we know to be illicit. At one and the same time 'the evil' are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness. We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves. The wickedness of 'the evil' is not committed directly, but indirectly as a part of this cover-up process. Evil originates not in the absence of guilt but in the effort to escape it.
Note that Scott's insight has powerful strategic implications for Occupy. Granting Soros's views, violence is what the 1% want. Anything to silence the chant of Shame! Shame! which is what they truly fear.