Brian Holmes on Thu, 27 Mar 2003 14:57:33 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> George Soros: An Allergic Reaction To The BushDoctrine

Uncle Soros and Mr. Hyde
(A Tale of Two Georges)

George Soros is one of those proverbial guys so perfect that if he 
didn't exist, you'd have to invent him. How else to prove that since 
the Enlightenment, individualistic, dog-eat-dog capitalism has gone 
hand in hand with the highest social idealism?

What tickles me here is his craftsman's parallel between the job he 
knows best and some other issue of great human importance:

>I see a parallel between the Bush administration's pursuit of 
>American supremacy and a boom-bust process or bubble in the stock 

Soros thinks that the way G.W. Bush has arrogated sovereign military 
power to the US alone, outside of any international law, will be 
initially self-reinforcing, like the stock-market bubble - 
particularly with military victory, which would be "the easy part." 
Then at a given moment, this bubble of confidence could burst, Soros 
fears. And Bush would go bust.

Apparently Soros perceives no other relationship between the 10-year 
stock market frenzy and the current war frenzy than the boom-bust 
cycle, which in his view is based on "reality distorted by 
misconception." So he says: "The dominant position of the United 
States is the reality, the pursuit of supremacy the misconception." 
This is a political translation of the notion that our economic 
system is fundamentally rational, but just occasionally gets taken 
over by fits of "exuberance." One would expect such logic from a 
financier. But still there's something extremely suggestive in the 
following paragraph, and particularly the last sentence:

>President George W. Bush came into office with a coherent strategy 
>based on market fundamentalism and military power. But before 9/11 
>he lacked a clear mandate or a well-defined enemy. The terrorist 
>attack changed all that. Terrorism is the ideal enemy. It is 
>invisible and therefore never disappears. An enemy that poses a 
>genuine and recognized threat can effectively hold a nation 
>together. That is particularly useful when the
>prevailing ideology is based on the unabashed pursuit of self-interest.

The mystery of market societies is exactly that: what can possibly 
make people exclusively pursuing their own self-interest into a 
community? Or in other words, how to bind together a bunch of people 
who spend their entire day trying to make their company or stock or 
investment out-perform yours? Especially when they do it by every 
low-down, Enronic strategem imaginable? And with the exclusive goal 
of always having more for themselves alone?

Well, one way is to say: there will be infinite economic growth, an 
infinitely expanding quantity of the one thing we all desire in 
common - that is, money, greenback dollars - so no matter how high 
Billy scores with his diskettes or Georgey with his hedge funds, 
somebody else can always make a killing in biotech. Hmm, great 
solution. In the US in the 90s, this solution was promoted to the 
point of getting not only middle-class professionals and retirees to 
put their money onto the spinning wheel, but even working people who 
could then dream of free beer. Of course, the only free beer or more 
likely, champagne, went to those at the top, since the whole thing 
fell apart right around the time the least well-off were lured into 

What I think - and I know there's no way to substantiate this - is 
that with the break-up of the stock market/ new economy frenzy in the 
US, market society is at a loss for something to bind it together. 
Bush has effectively used and abused the spectre of terrorism to 
project each one's fear of their scheming neighbor to the outside, to 
Afghanistan and Irak. Instead of a common desire, Americans now have 
a common enemy. But at the same time, Bush & Co. have made fear of 
your neighbor into reality by instituting spying and denunciation 
programs. Plus, your neighbor may perfectly well be Muslim. All this 
would mean that whenever the national unity can no longer be found in 
an outside enemy, things could get pretty divisive in the US. But of 
course, we're all convinced that the economy will boom again after 
the war. Right? Right? Right? A little more to the Right?

One side of Soros knows that the market society's volatile swings 
between confidence and fear are too dangerous for human existence. 
They have to at least be counter-balanced by other kinds of ties 
between people, based on other forms of reciprocity, such as cultural 
creation and exchange, education, the foundation of shared 
institutions outside the imperative to compete. This is what Soros 
built up (and then took apart: but that's another story) in the 
former East. The fallacy, extending far beyond Soros himself, lies in 
the belief that these cooperative relations can be constructed on the 
proceeds of speculative raids carried out against specific 
currencies, or through the mathematical inventions of hedge funds. 
The "substitute solidarity" of market-based charity is the thin 
branch onto which the double-sided nature of enlightened capitalist 
idealism has pushed our market societies.

The current war shows how vital it is to go beyond that schizophrenic 
way of thinking. Because the charitable likes of financiers such as 
George Soros are inevitably bound to their horrifying opposites: in 
this case, George Bush. The speculative bubble of the roaring 90s is 
as close to the wartime terror of the collapsing 00s as Doctor Jekyll 
is to Mister Hyde. So what was the secret potion that put one of them 
inside the other's skin? It was the "magic of the marketplace" that 
Reagan and Thatcher forced down our throats in the 1980s.

Brian Holmes

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