George Soros should spend his money however he likes.
There, I’ve said it. I appreciate that that may not be a popular opinion in the pages of the Washington Examiner, so please don’t misunderstand me: Soros’ politics are about as far removed from mine as it’s possible to be.
On Thursday, for example, it was reported that the left-wing financier was trying to overturn Britain’s 2016 vote against E.U. membership. American Soros-watchers will recognize the broad outlines of the story: a private dinner with a coterie of billionaire donors, a scheme to subvert public opinion, a detailed plan involving giving money to groups of activists to create a synthetic wave of agitation.
Soros has not so far been a boogeyman in Britain in the way that he is in, say, Eastern Europe. The last time he crossed our radar was when he bet heavily against sterling in 1992, contributing to its departure from the E.U.’s Exchange Rate Mechanism, the forerunner to the euro. He became known as "the man who broke the Bank of England," though it quickly became clear he had done us a favor. Instead of joining the euro, we enjoyed 15 years of uninterrupted growth.
Britain, in consequence, has little time for the conspiracy theories now common across the continent, which portray Soros as a shadowy puppetmaster. Such stories strike us as having unpleasant undertones. It’s not that all Soros-bashers are anti-Semites. After all, they now include in their number the Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has criticized the financier in terms strikingly similar to those of Hungary’s strongman, Viktor Orbán. It’s just that we don’t buy the hidden-hand view of the world.
After all, how true is it to say that Soros operates stealthily? In general, he is pretty open about the causes he supports – including on this occasion. To call his dinner “secret” is an abuse of language. It would be better described as “private,” which is, when you think about it, true of most dinners. Did you put out a press release the last time you had friends around?
To repeat, I think what Soros is up to is appalling. I also happen to think it will backfire. One of the reasons people turned against the E.U. is because they saw it for what it was, namely a corporatist racket that redistributes wealth from ordinary people to lobbyists and rent-seekers. If Soros thinks that his support, at the head of a phalanx of plutocrats, will help rehabilitate the E.U., he misjudges the temper of the British people.
Still, he is entitled to push whatever interests he wants. And we conservatives should be magnanimous enough to accept that not every cause he has backed is wrong. Sure, a lot of them are: He seems obsessed with building up undemocratic supranational structures. But he has also given money to undermine Communist states, as well as to alleviate poverty in Africa.
Try flipping it around. Imagine a Soros of the Right, a wealthy backer of free-market movements. Actually, we don’t have to imagine. The Koch brothers are, to left-wing conspiracy theorists, what Soros is to their conservative equivalents. Day after day, they are accused of using their wealth to subvert the democratic process. But what is it that they have actually done? Since the 1970s, they have openly and proudly supported various pro-enterprise foundations and institutes. Like Soros, they are accused of acting furtively when they are behaving no less privately than any other citizen. And you know what? They have helped make America a better place.
One of the things that sets the U.S. apart is that charitable donations play a bigger role, and not just among the rich. In consequence, lots of things that are close to being government monopolies elsewhere, from educational initiatives and operas to homeless shelters – are operated privately in America, and are all the better for it.
Why should politics be an exception? Why shouldn’t it, too, benefit from private finance? And if that is true of the political causes we favor, it must also apply to those we don’t. Both the Koch brothers and George Soros are giving unselfishly to initiatives in which they believe. I happen to think that the causes the Kochs back are benign, whereas the same is not true of many sponsored by Soros. But plenty of people think the reverse.
Either way, it is surely better for rich men to give their money away than to spend it on themselves.
Daniel Hannan, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a British member of the European Parliament.