Dateline, George Soros Interview

Transcript

GEORGE NEGUS: Mr Soros, you have a habit as one of the 80 richest men in the world for putting your money where your mouth is, literally. Tell me if I'm wrong - I mean, looking at the maths, worth $8.5 billion. Is that a reasonable figure?

GEORGE SOROS,PHILANTHROPIST AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: I don't discuss that.

GEORGE NEGUS: You've stopped counting.

GEORGE SOROS: No, I don't...those are guesses.

GEORGE NEGUS: But how much of your wealth do you use philanthropically - in a highly political philanthropic way, I have to say?

GEORGE SOROS: My foundation went from $3 million to $600 million a year in a very short period of time at the time of the demise of the Soviet Empire, then it stabilised around $400 million, and now it is again rising because I would like to spend more of it while I'm around.

GEORGE NEGUS: To some people there is a contradiction in terms. For somebody who has been described as even a left-wing billionaire, a liberal philanthropist, how do you justify, if you like, making money out of the system that you find is flawed to "try and save the world" or make the world a better, more open place?

GEORGE SOROS: Well, you see, I have a very well developed philosophy of the open society which is based on the recognition that all human constructs are flawed and you cannot have perfection, but you can improve conditions, so the fact that the system is flawed doesn't make me an enemy of the system. I would like to make it better.

GEORGE NEGUS: But it's not a double standard in any way, as you see it, anyway.

GEORGE SOROS: No, not at all. There is no conflict at all.

GEORGE NEGUS: But your critics, your critics are quite savage.

GEORGE SOROS: Well, of course. You know by adopting a number of causes that other people espouse, naturally they attack me, so this is actually one of the unfortunate side effects of my activity because I have taken on perhaps too many causes.

GEORGE NEGUS: How do you wear descriptions like I have just given you? How do you describe George Soros yourself?

GEORGE SOROS: Well, I would say that I am a flawed person who is trying to, nevertheless

GEORGE NEGUS: A very wealthy flawed person who can afford to make mistakes, I guess.

GEORGE SOROS: Well, but I try to correct my mistakes, if I can.

GEORGE NEGUS: You've been particularly critical of the United States of America in the context of world conflict, etc.

GEORGE SOROS: No mainly of the Bush Administration.

GEORGE NEGUS: Of the Bush Administration, certainly. In the last election in America you put $25 million, as I understand it, to groups that were opposed to the Bush Administration

GEORGE SOROS: A little more.

GEORGE NEGUS: and you failed.

GEORGE SOROS: Yes.

GEORGE NEGUS: Why did it not work? I mean, $25 million is a lot of money.

GEORGE SOROS: Well, it just shows you that you can't buy elections.

GEORGE NEGUS: And people were accusing you of having bought the Democratic Party.

GEORGE SOROS: Well, that, of course, is not true, but I really believed at that time that the greatest benefit to humanity would be if one could remove Bush from the White House in '04. And I am afraid that what has happened since has worn me out, regrettably.

GEORGE NEGUS: What about on this occasion? This year we're looking or next year we're looking at an election in the United States. Are you going to throw lots of George Soros money at the Democratic cause or the anti-Republican cause?

GEORGE SOROS: No, no, no. I will still be very engaged because I think America is still the leading force, country, in the world.

GEORGE NEGUS: With all its flaws.

GEORGE SOROS: With all its faults. And therefore it's terribly important what happens in America. I support Barack Obama for Democratic candidate.

GEORGE NEGUS: Why is that?

GEORGE SOROS: Because I think it's a fresh voice. I think he doesn't carry the baggage of the failed policies that is bogging down this country. You see, I think that America went wrong with the war on terror and basically the Democrats also bought into that concept.

GEORGE NEGUS: Do you include Hillary Clinton in that?

GEORGE SOROS: To some extent, yes, although I would be very happy having Hillary as a president, but I'm afraid that she did buy into it and it does colour her.

GEORGE NEGUS: Because when George Bush goes - and he has to go - he's not running for election again - the neo-cons who you're so worried about, who regard as adopting a crude form of social Darwinism, I think. They will still be around causing trouble.

GEORGE SOROS: I think they are demoralised. I think they are disintegrated. The neo-cons are, in my book, finished.

GEORGE NEGUS: Is the great irony or the great paradox where George Soros is concerned that, because you're so wealthy, people may find it difficult to take you seriously? This bloke can bloke can afford, this guy can afford to take these stands the rest of us can't.

GEORGE SOROS: Well, there is this stereotype of the rich man, who, because he is rich, he thinks he is clever, or he is wise, and so I have to live with that.

GEORGE NEGUS: Do you think that you are clever and wise?

GEORGE SOROS: I do, actually. I think that I may be an exception.

GEORGE NEGUS: Well, you are an exception in so many ways. There aren't that many people who have as strong political views and convictions as you do.

GEORGE SOROS: You know, it goes back to my background because I lived through Nazi occupation. Being Jewish I was 13 years old when the Nazis came in. If my father hadn't understood what it was all about, I wouldn't be alive, so surviving that experience was a formative thing for me. 1944 was when my character was formed and it was that experience that led me to the philosophy of Carl Popper and the fallibility and open society. And actually those ideas are the ones that allowed me to make a lot of money, because instead of believing that markets tend towards equilibrium, I realised that's based on the assumption of perfect knowledge, which is nonsense.

GEORGE NEGUS: You are quite happy to play the markets that could be responsible for a lot of the injustices in the world that you would disagree with.

GEORGE SOROS: Well, my not playing the markets would correct those injustices? I mean, this is a kind of force, a kind of morality. No individual anonymous participant can influence the prices and therefore you really can speculate in the market without paying attention to morality. That's one of the positive features of markets. That's why they function

GEORGE NEGUS: They're amoral.

GEORGE SOROS: They are amoral - they're not immoral.

GEORGE NEGUS: You've been called the world's greatest money changer, but you've also been accused by your critics of being an economic war criminal, in fact - somebody who caused the collapse of markets in the UK, Eastern Europe and even Thailand. Did you feel any responsibility for your activity in those markets?

GEORGE SOROS: None whatsoever, because if I hadn't been born, I think that the sterling would have left the exchange rate mechanism.

GEORGE NEGUS: People think you have got more power than you really have financially.

GEORGE SOROS: No, you see I was successful there, but I was successful because I read the market right. There is no way that I could have imposed my will on the market.

GEORGE NEGUS: Can I ask you about our country, Australia? We're a member of the coalition of the willing. Do you ever think about Australia at all? Does it cross your mind?

GEORGE SOROS: A little, occasionally, and I don't really like the current political leadership in Australia. I don't like the way they treated the refugees and also I don't like them being that closely associated with Bush.

GEORGE NEGUS: What would your gratuitous advice be to Australia?

GEORGE SOROS: Change the government.

GEORGE NEGUS: Or remain neutral in international affairs? Is that an answer?

GEORGE SOROS: No, no, no, no, I think Australia, for instance, intervened in East Timor as part of the UN. You might say they shouldn't have been leading it, one could argue, but I'm glad that they did participate because they did save lives, I think.

GEORGE NEGUS: Is it possible to say that the existence of groups like the International Crisis Group and your various foundations and your Open Society Foundation are by definition a criticism of the UN, that the UN is not doing its job?

GEORGE SOROS: The UN one has to understand the UN is an association of states and states have interests but no principles. Sovereign states always put their sovereign interests ahead of the common interests. And the common interest of humanity needs advocates and I think you might consider the ICG and they are advocates, the open society foundations are advocates in that sense. And that I think is tremendously important to keep governments honest, so actually keep governments accountable is the function of civil society. And that is what my foundations are designed to support.

GEORGE NEGUS: You do have an agenda which suggests that, over the years remaining, that you will slowly but surely deliberately spend your money, give your money to causes that you believe in, continue to be a philanthropist until maybe you've only got your daily spending left for yourself?

GEORGE SOROS: My original intention was to spend the money in my lifetime. I now have modified it because I have found this niche for the foundation, namely help civil society to hold governments accountable. And that is a mission that needs to be supported and the foundation can do it without me, so actually the foundation will survive me.

GEORGE NEGUS: Beyond George Soros himself.

GEORGE SOROS: Yes.

GEORGE NEGUS: Thank you very much for your time. Great to chat to you.



Producer/Researcher
JANE WORTHINGTON

Camera
DOUGLAS BAIRD

Second Camera
George Harrold

Camera assistant
Rick Bennett

Sound
NORMAN THOMPSON

Editor
STEVE HARROP

Producer
AMOS COHEN