George Soros was raised in a middle class Jewish family in Hungary. When he was in early adolescence, his father moved his family away. Unfortunately, some of his relatives lacked such foresight and perished under Nazi occupation. This is an important piece of Soros’ personal history and the deep fear and loathing that it surely caused probably played a role in the development of his almost singular drive to change the world for the better.
The other formative event in his life was his studies in philosophy under the famous Karl Popper. George Soros himself credits Popper for pouring the foundations upon which he later built his own ideas of reflexivity. He also cites Popper as the intellectual fountainhead of his ideas regarding open societies. This latter concept is not only the name of Soros’ flagship philanthropic vehicle, it’s also the name of Popper’s famous book Open Society and Its Enemies.
Many, if not all, of the self-made billionaire class are men (and women) of rarefied intelligence. However even among such exalted company Soros’ intellectual bent stands out. Even as he had become fully involved in the world of finance in the mid ’60s he seemingly had no lust for wealth. George Soros merely wanted to earn $500,000, enough, by his estimation, to retire to a life of the mind and develop his philosophical ideas.
Markets as philosophic test bed
Soros’ entire investment scheme was conceived from the start as a sort of validation of his ideas of reflexivity. Stories abound that through the better part of the 1960s Soros was a mediocre trader at best. As these yarns go, he spent the bulk of his time and the near totality of his genius on developing his own ideas. It can hardly be stressed enough how unusual such passions must have seemed on a mid ’60s Wall St trading floor. For Soros, the train of the Academy had long ago left the station. But Soros clung to his passion for ideas as if there were no alternative.
Eventually he was given a shot at managing a $12,000,000 fund. His ideas about how markets function in the real world quickly proved to be a rocket without service ceiling. His profits, and those of his investors, soared towards the exosphere. Meanwhile Soros’ ideas about the proper role of a man of learning had begun evolving. Just as he had successfully applied philosophical abstractions to the markets, why couldn’t he do the same to the world at large? With the accumulation of great wealth, Soros could commit the ideas of the open society, not just to paper, but to the world itself.
He began to view the accumulation of vast wealth as a tool by which to shape the world into something that more closely resembles the globalist libertarian vision, the freedom maximizing model that he has expounded and advocated since his college days.
For this, even his sworn enemies must respect him.