Billionaire George Soros Speaks at IOP

Multibillionaire, financier and philanthropist George Soros discussed the role of capitalism in advancing democracy last night in the ARCO Forum to an audience of more than 500.

Soros is best known as a philanthropist with deep pockets who earned his money in currency speculation and spends it mainly on civic and human-rights activities in countries of central and Eastern Europe to encourage the transition to democracy.

Soros described himself as a "giant digestive tract, taking money in one end and then out the other."

At last night's speech, which packed the ARCO Forum to capacity, Soros responded to controversy surrounding his February article in The Atlantic Monthly, titled "The Capitalist Threat."

According to Soros, the article's title was misleading. He said that he originally wanted to title his article "The Open Society Reconsidered."


"I'm not opposed to capitalism," Soros said. "I cherish capitalism, and capitalism cherishes me."

Soros, who was born in Budapest in 1930, lived underground with his Jewish family during Nazi rule and fled to England in 1947 when Russian occupation led to a Stalinist regime.

In 1979, he founded the most well-known of his philanthropic organizations, the Open Society Fund. According to Soros, the Fund's objectives are "to help open closed societies and make open societies more viable."

Soros said that his commitment to creating an open society began with his experience during the Nazi and Stalinist regimes. He said the open society is the antithesis of those political ideologies.

Soros' definition of an open society has three parts--a civil society based on a common interest, a free market economic system and a democratic government. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, he said he has concentrated his efforts on central and Eastern Europe.

"I have become very caught up in the Soviet Union for two reasons," Soros said. "I care very much about an open society and I have very deep pockets."

The various foundations that Soros created spent some $350 million last year, mainly in countries that are undergoing the transition to democracy.

Audience reaction to his views was mixed.

"He has much more money than ideas," said Pablo C. Delafuente, a second year student at the Kennedy School of Government. He added that he would give Soros a two on a scale of one to three. "A lot of professors could give a better lecture," he added.

Jesse L. Margolis '99 said he was disappointed that Soros seemed to merely rephrase his Atlantic Monthly article.

"I left early during the question and answer period because people would ask very long questions, and he would only respond with very curt answers," Margolis said.

Others were more approving.

"He is a surprisingly down-to-earth man who is not really idealistic at all but practical because he sees the cause-and-effect continuum very well--and that's why he's so rich," said Cambridge resident Michael Alogna