ABOUT THIS EPISODE

The Financial Times has chosen George Soros as its Person of the Year and here editor Lionel Barber and deputy editor Roula Khalaf explain why the billionaire philanthropist and liberal standard bearer merits the title, particularly in 2018. Presented by Robert Shrimsley and produced by Anna Dedhar

English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00welcome to the Financial Times speak read a week he put cost teaching the best of our long form the quoting from around the world I'm on a data from the pinion analysis desk I will speak read put cost of the year it's a special episode for the FTC
00:00:15person of the year presented by columnist Robert trim see the Financial Times has just announced his person of the year is a decision that often provokes fierce debates among senior editors and commentators to say nothing of readers as well in previous years we often plump for a major
00:00:31politician or a business figure someone has clocked up notable successes in their field one of the big news makers of the this year we've taken a slightly different approach all person of the year is the billionaire philanthropist and fall to the hedge fund industry George Soros I'm joined
00:00:46in the studio by the edits a Lionel barber adept here to run a call if you went into him for the peace we write making the announcement so long as I said slightly different approach this year selecting someone as much for what he represents is for what he's
00:00:58done in the yep what were the reasons we went for George Soros liberal democracy in the world today is under attack liberal values are under attack whether it be through Vladimir Putin's Russia Donald trump's America was social media the climb down in Eastern Europe central Europe hungry Joe
00:01:18sources birth place Mister Orban Nick to all non is the New York to crime so I think we decided collectively because it is a collective decision is not a decision by the editor to choose an individual who we think represents very important values today and those are liberal
00:01:36democracy and the open society religious before we get into this in detail but for those who I'm you know one thing about your source is normally a lot of people who know one thing about him tell us just a bit about his history his background in Britain George
00:01:50Soros is best known for making a massive bets against the pound in nineteen ninety two and he's known as the man who broke the bank of England Jr stores was a speculator for long time made huge fortune but he began his philanthropy very early on in the late
00:02:09seventies Soros figured that he can use his money to promote change in Eastern Europe and he started in Hungary even before then though he visited South Africa and he started funding black students at an all white university the Cold War was in a way that's your source biggest
00:02:29opportunity because he'd been there had been on the ground had been help paying a lot of dissident groups and with the fall of the Berlin Wall he tried to promote a sort of Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe nobody listened to him and so he created his own Marshall
00:02:47Plan started back to the paying salaries for scientists and that's how he became known as a huge European philanthropists where did source come from source came from a Jewish family in Hungary when the Germans invaded his family took different identity papers and head essentially George was sent to
00:03:09live with different people at different times and after the US when Hungary came under communist rule George decided that he was only seventeen he decided he didn't want to live under communist rule and so he came to London and he went to the London school of economics and
00:03:29that's where he met the philosopher Karl Popper who had written a lot about the closed societies versus open societies so that gave him at the foundation for his philanthropy and for his philanthropic thinking Soros thinks of himself as a philosopher he often says he's a failed philosopher and
00:03:48when I met him I telling him that to me he's an active philosopher because instead of just thinking and writing he's actually tried to implement his thinking and values so bus much of the positive case for George Soros he's it was immensely polarizing figure line what you say
00:04:08all the negative the things that people don't like about him they don't like the fact that these political with a capital P. he uses money for political purposes now I can try and think of some negatives but we made in person of the year so I think we'll
00:04:22stay with the pauses for a moment and the real point is he uses money for political change and to defend certain values so regimes like Viktor Orban's who's closed his university down in Budapest had to move to Vienna they don't like him because he criticizes the government he
00:04:39criticizes the regime he protects the right to dissent and alternative values I think in Britain where we have a very divisive debate still over Britain's decision to leave the European Union George Soros is unapologetically in favor of a second referendum and he's funding groups and individuals who are
00:05:02making the case for a second vote now that's why someone like Nigel garage the onetime leader of the U. K. Independence Party and one of the biggest political figures who successfully promoted the case for leaving they think that literally and I'm quoting George Soros is the most dangerous
00:05:20man in the western world one of the arguments that's made against him I was interested to read some of the comments when we published our piece was well he's just another billion a doubling in politics and you the F. T. a from quite critical of billion as the
00:05:33cook brothers for example so why is he better than them the coke brothers use that money to promote political causes political action groups yes but I would argue that George Soros is a philanthropist as opposed to just a political operative and if you think of the money that
00:05:54he's given I mean I've known George Soros for thirty years I can still remember meeting and when he turned up in a Washington dinner party in around nineteen eighty eight and talked about the end of communism in central Eastern Europe and the right to dissidents except truck and
00:06:09he's been on the writ large on the right side of history he's a philanthropist in the sense that he cares about people are oppressed people in marginalized in a difficulty take the ring in the Sims for from %HESITATION young mom who %HESITATION forcibly deported into neighboring Bangladesh there
00:06:26in camps terribly squalid conditions I mean George Soros will have that conversation over dinner about the risks of landslides I mean that's how much he Castro I think that's a fundamental misunderstanding of choice for us I think you have to separate two different activities the open society foundations
00:06:46fund civil society okay personally he gets involved in politics and I think that had a lot of critics have confused the two things so George Soros that's not actually get involved in Hungarian politics what George Soros does is find a lot of civil society groups human rights groups
00:07:06investigative journalism groups who fight for the values that he believes that for democracy for human rights for the rule of law now as an individual George Soros also gets involved in politics but no one can deny this but mostly in the US that is the one place where
00:07:26he has taken a political position and where he used to be a Reagan Republican but he has become a Democrat and that all started during the George W. bush administration because he'd very very strongly believe that the war on terror was a huge mistake and he wasn't wrong
00:07:45but I think it is very important to distinguish these two activities the personal versus the civil society support yeah is human rights the right to dissent as opposed to party politics and he's had quite a tortilla hasn't he really I can't think of anyone who's had a worse
00:08:02here in a way than George Soros because he has become the bogey man for every populist I've read nationalist the every old try it he's always been criticized I think in very right twin circles but you would find this in all try chat rooms for instance but the
00:08:23criticism is reading now reached the mainstream and I think in part not only because Viktor Orban decided to make him the biggest enemy of Hungary but also because Donald Trump has joined in the Olympic caravan of Mike restricted and he blamed him for the caravan of mine and
00:08:39I'm not saying I mean some groups that George Soros supports that the open society foundation support may very well have helped some of these migrants but he has been blamed for everything Roseanne Barr's tweeted very nasty claims against him but also the attacker of the synagogue in Pittsburgh
00:08:59it was I think people have looked into his background have also seen that he seems to have been inspired by anti source propaganda and I think it hurts George tremendously that people are instrumental icing him in order to kill long he's been the target of the bomb plot
00:09:17he's become a missed the face of antisemitic tropes as well hasn't it off the world as one of the most disturbing trends as we know through recent polls that anti semitism and anti semitic sentiment in Europe has been rising and as ruler says the most disturbing phenomenon is
00:09:32that he's being a victim on a target of conspiracy theories and it's the old anti semitic trope that somehow the speculator the man with the money at the man who made money house of markets puppet master yes he's pulling the strings and you know he he is a
00:09:51very rich man he's made a lot of money he's worth certainly have a twenty billion dollars probably more but I would argue that he's used his money carefully and he's used his money in defense of tolerance and the right to dissent in society do you think there's any
00:10:07validity to the Christian the way he's made his money well let's just take the first example that rely mention which is nineteen ninety two and the fact that he made a billion pounds from betting against the pound now this was a very simple insight that the British government
00:10:23had committed festival to put the pound in an exchange rate mechanism which limited the amount of fluctuation for the currency is a sort of fix but adjustable exchange rate mechanism and it was locked in too high so he was making a simple proposition that actually the pound wasn't
00:10:41worth that amount of money and in order to defend the value of the pound at that time the government would have to raise interest rates to an unsustainable level and he was right because it fifteen percent plus they buckled and we rejected from the E. R. M. and
00:10:58of course it broke the conservative party's reputation for sensible economic management but people who criticize George Soros for making the money one don't understand how markets work and second forget conveniently that out of that day Bakula out of that ruin actually there is a very sensible exchange rate
00:11:20policy and economic management run by the conservative government which laid the foundations for fifteen plus years of prosperity based on a flexible exchange right really you went to interview him he an eighty eight year old man he is the target of bomb plots he's a global villain to
00:11:36a significant portion of the world but you actually found it quite up the sand a tough assignment being sent to Amerikanische sending itself tomorrow was a day trip to the fact it was a day trip so yeah it was the it was hardship but no it was really
00:11:49enjoyable and to get to spend two and a half hours %HESITATION which George Soros was fascinating to me you know he is someone who reads ferociously and who is aware of everything that's being said about him so I don't think anybody's hiding from him how he is being
00:12:07vilified but I think he still finds that one what he's doing is right it it's worth it and that he can still make a difference he just been in South Africa when I went to see him in fact whatever question I asked was irrelevant he was sitting there
00:12:25and he was going to tell me about South Africa that was the twenty fifth anniversary of the foundation in South Africa and he didn't know that that was %HESITATION allegedly corrupt contract for nuclear power plant that's been in the works with Russia and as we know he's huge
00:12:41critic of Putin and he didn't know that that contract had been exposed and that the groups that he funds and that he supports were involved in stopping this contract and he was enrich despite this he thought that I can still make a difference but it's not only there
00:12:59that he can still make a difference he is making a difference I mean whatever I go all over the world often meet people whose only funding comes from George Soros and from the open society foundation you can't imagine how many people are surviving only because of his support
00:13:16and tell us what he'd like to talk to is it falsity deliberate paint a picture of what it's like to work with these very very reflective very pensive he thinks before he answers and he often answers by saying well I'm not sure but this is what I think
00:13:32he was also thinking a lot about his speech at Davos he always gives a speech at Davos that makes a splash and he said that he wants to talk about China double so in this interview doesn't want to talk about China does compartmentalized and he's funny he's got
00:13:49a really nice sense of humor you know self deprecating and make fun of himself and very thoughtful like any eighty eight year old man he's thinking about today but also it reminds all share a billionaire he's reminded me of the way I talk to my father because he's
00:14:05still very sharp he can have amazing intellectual conversations but he does go back to the path and he's thinking all along what one trunk why did it go wrong how do I explain it and he's always interested in what you think about it he's one of the world's
00:14:21great intellectuals in my mind he you can have a conversation of a dinner with him which is so rich and reflective he knows his history he does like an edge of gossip if you can tell a little insight about an individual or world lead %HESITATION he loves that
00:14:37but he thinks big picture he's conscious of history's sweet he likes to make the big judgments but he will do that on the basis of considered information he's one of these some individuals who will make a big coal based on serious reflection so for example his interest in
00:14:55to talk about Europe he supports the idea for example the second vote for Britain to go back into the European Union but it's by no means I'm critical of the opinion and he thinks it's actually become a technocratic bureaucratic exercise any he's very critical of the operation of
00:15:10the single currency for example it is critical of German economic policy serve for all these reasons is absolutely fascinating and the last point is he's he's also loves technology and he's become Robert order be challenged and say has these extraordinary if funds and you have to speak through
00:15:30a microphone so in it this way he'll pick up the sound and you can have a completely ordinary conversation but if you didn't have that technology you be challenged real one thing that's often raised against him I see exactly the right wing tribes about him is that he
00:15:44he somehow collaborated with the **** when he was much younger does not correct to think no I don't think that's correct the tool but I can tell you where this comes from at one point he was sent by his father to live with that cultural official in Hungary
00:16:03he was thirteen fourteen at the time and that official had to go and take inventory of some of the properties that belong to choose but the Jews had left and he was there he was with him at one point now why did the story come out he was
00:16:20asked at one point by an interviewer on sixty minutes about this incident and he seems completely taken aback I've watched very on that end interview when he he treats as as if there was nothing wrong with those circumstances and he says yes yeah and that clip nobody's had
00:16:41another clip of that essentially erased says that early clip and a lot of people just refer to that clip even under our story I say but have you seen this clip I think also because his family was assimilate to because he's not a practicing Jew he doesn't really
00:16:58believe he's also a critical Israel isn't he's critical of Israel and the Israeli right wing is very critical of him I mean you know Netanyahu meets Viktor Orban exactly at the time one Victor %HESITATION band has a massive campaign against George Soros so I think for all these
00:17:15reasons some of his critics say well you know he's not a real Jew and he doesn't care about Jews which is really really far from the truth I think he was extremely hurt by the attack on the synagogue not least because it was done in a way almost
00:17:30in his name yeah long if we come up to but the prices but which we choose person of the year a little bit it's fair to say isn't it that we often go into this meeting having really no idea how it's going to end it's an open society
00:17:43more or less we done a members of the public that I would say it's Democrat he's important to understand that this is not an arbitrage judgment so we consult all the journalists at the F. T. we send out an email and there are five hundred and sixty seventy
00:17:57journalists around the world and we ate we solicit names we don't have at that point affirm view of who we would suggest you've mentioned some of the individuals we chose and some look a little less good with the passage of time but we then hold a meeting which
00:18:15is people invited to the colonists the leader right is the people who write the editorials the senior stopped I mean you were invited Robert rulers always that myself a Martin wolf Philip Stephens Gideon Rachman Serra Gordan people with fifteen twenty years twenty five years and we have a
00:18:34debate where we say okay here are the names that have attracted the most votes among stuff what we think of them and we debate the various merits we say will what will it look like in a year's time an inevitably we have somebody who helpfully suggests well would
00:18:52we have made Adolf Hitler the F. T. person the in nineteen thirty nine in other words do you make somebody the person just because they're of historical imposes an important point because we've always steered away from major news well the thing is if we think they do not
00:19:07represent the values we share this is correct tell that we did make Lloyd blank find person of the year I think in two thousand and ten or eleven essentially because Lloyd Blankfein this chairman chief executive Goldman Sachs probably the bank at that point with JP Morgan chase that
00:19:25came out of the crisis in this the strongest and they were trying to reinvent themselves I mean subsequent wanted to problems in Malaysia you might think slightly differently but anyway we make that choice and that was controversial make a lot of attacks essentially saying that we were supporting
00:19:41%HESITATION vampire squids so to speak we were supporting the financial community to close I think on this occasion and in full disclosure and other ones make you blush Robert but you did suggest George Soros and you made the case based on values rather than singular achievements in fact
00:19:59as a correspondent in Southeast Asia John reed reminded me by email this week he had suggested George Soros last year and I think just ruler said it'd been a tough year for George Soros but also we we really felt that this was the moment to choose and I
00:20:16I have to say and it's always interesting when you chat meetings you don't want to show you a concept to %HESITATION early but when you proposed George Soros it just felt right so the question was then could we listen to some alternatives enormously and maybe not so obviously
00:20:32Emmanuel McCall the president of France was put up in a reasonable case made for my colleague is about six weeks ago wasn't as I was before he left really I was that it was to from the pre juillet Joan but a macro made a magnificent speech before a
00:20:47joint session of Congress essentially defending the kind of liberal values and liberal democracy that we serve praised in George Soros but he's obviously made some missteps bit too aloof to potere in whatever so we discarded mackerel and then we all coalesced I think people feel pretty good about
00:21:06George source and the reaction from our readers has been tremendous well it's definitely provokes debate and comment which is all through one of the main purposes of the person of the year awards I thank you to Lionel and river I think we'll probably already looking for to figuring
00:21:19out who began to cheese next year and you can read the full interview with George Soros at F. T. dot com slash sauce thank you for listening if you've enjoyed the safety put cost you can subscribe on all the usual channels if you're not already enough the subscriber
00:21:36is it F. T. dot com forward slash offer from lated subscription office this episode was produced but on the data and Caroline Grady

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