Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Soros on the Roma

Michael Steinberger profiles George Soros, the mega-biolionaire investor, philanthropist and student of Karl Popper, in the The New York Times Magazine. On becoming a philanthropist:
By the late 1970s, Soros had become a very wealthy man. Now he had the means to make himself an agent of history. He was frank about his ambition, though also self-deprecating. As he wrote in his 1991 book, “Underwriting Democracy”: “I was a confirmed egoist but I considered the pursuit of self-interest as too narrow a base for my rather inflated self. If truth be known, I carried some rather potent messianic fantasies with me from childhood which I felt I had to control, otherwise they might get me into trouble. But when I had made my way in the world I wanted to indulge my fantasies to the extent that I could afford.”
Two paragraphs on the Roma (once known as Gypsies):
Soros’s efforts on behalf of one group in particular, the Roma, seem especially germane right now. In June, the new Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, the head of the far-right League party, commissioned a census of the country’s Roma. As an “answer to the Roma question,” as he menacingly phrased it, Salvini vowed to expel all non-Italian Roma and added, “Unfortunately, we will have to keep the Italian Roma.” Even in the age of Trump, his words were shocking, but he has refused to disavow them or back down. Improving the status of Europe’s estimated 10 to 12 million Roma has been a major priority for Soros and the O.S.F. [Open Society Foundation] since the early 1990s. The organization has contributed more than $300 million to projects combating discrimination against the Roma and providing them with greater education, employment and civic opportunities. It is a struggle because anti-Roma sentiment remains a potent force, a reality underscored by Salvini’s actions and statements. Given the political currents in Europe, this is another battle that Soros may well be losing. Salvini’s popularity has soared.

But it is also a clarifying battle. Setting aside all of the complications that come with being George Soros, would you rather live in the world that he has tried to create, or in the world that Salvini and Orban (and, for that matter, Trump) seem to be pushing us toward? In the aftermath of the Great Recession, it can certainly be argued that how Soros earned his money, and the fact that he accumulated such wealth, ought to carry more moral opprobrium in 2018 than maybe it did in 2008. But there is also a case to be made that in the present moment, with its echoes of the 1930s, how he amassed his fortune matters a lot less than what he has chosen to do with it.

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