Soros Among Those Who Received An Explosive Device
NOEL KING, HOST:
The billionaire George Soros is one of several public figures who've been mailed what are believed to be pipe bombs this week. Soros is a hedge fund investor and a philanthropist who's donated to causes, many of them progressive, around the world. And we should note that the Open Society Foundation, which he founded in 1993, has been a financial supporter of NPR. George Soros has a lot of enemies in politics. He's been a target of conspiracy theories from the right.
Sebastian Mallaby is the author of "More Money Than God," a history of the hedge fund industry. And I asked him recently if he was surprised to see George Soros among the U.S. presidents and other prominent Washington figures who've been sent these packages.
SEBASTIAN MALLABY: Well, the whole phenomenon of the pipe bombs obviously surprises me and appalls me. But if you were to say that somebody was out to make a list of, you know, progressive leaders they wanted to attack, then I wouldn't be surprised to see George Soros on that list. I think he is the single most important non-politician spearheading progressive causes worldwide.
KING: George Soros has a really interesting personal history. Tell us about that. And tell us, how did he make all of his money?
MALLABY: Well, he was born in 1930 to a well-to-do Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary. So his childhood was dominated by the Nazi occupation of his country, and he survived by separating from his family. And I think that trauma explains a lot about the focus of his philanthropy and his politics in later life.
He left Hungary at 17 to go to London. And from there, he went into finance. He moved to New York. He opened one of the very early hedge funds in New York and was a very successful stock market trader so that by around 1980, he was worth $100 million. But that was just the start because then he went into currency speculation in the '80s and '90s.
KING: Tell us briefly - how did currency speculation make him rich?
MALLABY: Well, in the '90s, the specialty was currency pegs that looked unsustainable. And famously, in 1992, he broke the Bank of England by betting that the Bank of England couldn't keep the British pound linked to the German deutsche mark. And when Soros was right, the pound collapsed, Soros made an absolute fortune, and the U.K. economy descended into some chaos.
KING: When did he start getting involved in politics in earnest?
MALLABY: It began in his native Hungary and then in other East European countries, where his philanthropy had a clear political purpose, which was to build pluralism. So he was sort of in politics from that period in the '80s onwards. But the switch came in 2003 when he waded into U.S. politics because of the Iraq War, though once it became clear, in 2004, quite how much money he was spending on Democratic get-out-the-vote causes, there was the inevitable counterattack from Republicans. And it became a useful trick if you were being attacked in the media and you were a Republican member of Congress to say, well, the media is slurring me because, sort of, Soros and his allies have put them up to it.
KING: Why does George Soros, in particular, become seen as a shadowy figure hiding in darkness? Is it just because he has so much money?
MALLABY: You know, I think it's ironic that he's seen as shadowy? You can't explain it rationally because, actually, his philanthropy is called the Open Society Institute. He's very open about it. He publishes figures about where the donations go. So I think it's hard to escape the suspicion that the critics who say he is shadowy are - I think they're drawing on a long tradition of anti-Semitism, where Jewish financiers are portrayed as the shadowy figures who manipulate the politicians and so forth. I think it's a fairly clear invocation of that tradition.
KING: What do people in his native Hungary think of Soros?
MALLABY: He was a hero early on in the transition away from communism. Things have turned more recently because of the anti-migration populist nationalism that has taken over the country.
KING: Sebastian Mallaby is the author of several books and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Thank you so much.
MALLABY: Thank you.
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