Why is it when some people become very rich they want to change the rules to make it more difficult for others to follow in their footsteps? Could it be a sense of guilt about acquiring such great wealth?
The latest rich person to decide there is something wrong with the economic system that made him fabulously wealthy is hedge fund investor George Soros.
Mr. Soros, who has made hundreds of millions of dollars from the capitalist system in the past 30 years, professes to see dangers to democratic society from that system. In short, he attacks the system that made him one of the world's richest men.
Mr. Soros, in the cover story in the February Atlantic Monthly, says, "Although I have made a fortune in the financial markets, I now fear that the untrammeled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism and the spread of market values into all areas of life is endangering our open and democratic society. The main enemy of the open society, I believe, is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat."
(Interpretation: It was great while I was making my money, but now it's dangerous.)
In his article Mr. Soros blames the Western democracies for not helping the former Communist countries in Europe, including Russia (ignoring billions of dollars of World Bank loans); he implies that laissez-faire capitalism was the cause of World War I and World War II; he argues that supply and demand do not determine prices in the real world and do not lead to the optimum allocation of resources; he contends laissez-faire capitalism has abolished income and wealth redistribution; and he urges further wealth redistribution should be tried even though it leads to market inefficiency.
The article is so replete with assertions open to challenge one hardly knows where to begin, but let's start with his vision of the threat: "untrammeled intensification of laissez-faire capitalism." Where on earth does he see that? Has he no conception of the increasingly burdensome regulatory shackles under which most U.S. enterprises operate? Actually, he probably has no idea. He has operated in the rarefied air of high finance, where everything is represented by clean, crisp numbers, far from the reality of actually trying to scratch out a living by producing something concrete.
He probably has no idea of myriad and multiplying OSHA, EPA, EEOC and other regulations under which most companies must operate. He has no idea how many new federal regulations, mandates and restrictions were imposed on businesses last year.
He must be unaware that the Clinton administration has proposed new, tougher clean air standards that will cost billions of dollars. And he must be unaware the administration has boasted that government agencies will be more active in enforcing existing regulations, stretching their interpretations to the limit.
Yet, although he doesn't say so openly, Mr. Soros is calling for greater government intervention in daily economic (and perhaps social) activity. Although he recognizes fascism and communism are evil because they use the power of the state to repress the freedom of the individual, he argues the open society may also be threatened by "excessive individualism." The implication is that government must restrain (repress?) this excessive (who is to determine what is excessive?) individualism (freedom?).
It seems to me a far greater danger to the "open society" Mr. Soros admires and desires is unrestrained, creeping bureaucratization, where business, and even daily life, is hamstrung by pettifogging rules and regulations.
That way leads to dictatorship by bureaucrats; unpardonable inefficiency; growing absolute poverty (not the relative poverty we have now); greater stratification of society, not less; more corruption, not less. That way leads, at best, to India - hardly a model for an "open society." Perhaps that's what Mr. Soros wants. Or perhaps he's just short the market and is trying to frighten it down.