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Buying a Better World: George Soros and Billionaire Philanthropy

by Anna Porter

It’s telling that the only reference to a serious critique of George Soros in Anna Porter’s new book about the mogul-philanthropist comes in the final pages. Sure, there are references to Glenn Beck’s anti-Semitic attacks and other, less odious slams from figures on the American right who are concerned with Soros’s influence on that country’s domestic politics. But Porter gives little attention to how we can or should reconcile Soros’s generous giving and moral leadership with his very successful business practices, which centre on leading successful hedge funds and speculating on currencies.

Buying A Better World Anna PorterWhen she does include the anti-Soros argument made by philosopher Slavoj Zizek, she adds that Zizek “should be an admirer of Soros’s social and political giving,” but doesn’t really address his argument that the damage caused by Soros’s business practices aren’t outweighed by his generosity.

Porter’s book, which includes quotes from an interview with Soros and some of the top lieutenants at the various organizations he has founded and funded, amounts to an overview of his efforts – some more successful than others – to support laudable ideals like the development and growth of democratic institutions, especially in the former Communist states in Eastern Europe and the developing world. More recently, he has become involved in trendier liberal topics like climate change, the war on drugs, and campaign finance reform. In Porter’s hands, this material is handled ably and fairly if unspectacularly, and by the end of the shortish volume it begins to seem like a bit of a laundry list.

To her credit, Porter does nothing to gloss over any of Soros’s failures or missteps, but, in the end, has a difficult time explaining what the outcome of these expensive forays into some of the most vexing issues of the past 30 years have yielded for Soros, or anyone else for that matter. It is here that considering Zizek’s critique, not dismissing it, may have been useful. As Zizek wrote of Soros (and other mogul-philanthropists like Bill Gates) in 2006: “Charity today is the humanitarian mask that hides the underlying economic exploitation…. [The] developed countries are constantly ‘helping’ the undeveloped (with aid, credits, etc.), thereby avoiding the key issue, namely, their complicity in and co-responsibility for the miserable situation of the undeveloped.”