Since the early 1980s, economic growth has increasingly been driven by financialization in the West – the replacement of industrial activity by financial trading. Traders like financial mogul and hedge-fund investor, George Soros, who has been called the world’s most famous investor, have greatly benefitted from financialization.
Gangster Capitalism and Soros: Soros explains in his famous 60 Minutes interview from 1999, how he advises more regulation of the system, yet he himself has the main part of his hedge fund companies registered outside the US, precisely in order to, as he states, not to have them regulated.
In the same interview, when asked about his engagement in hedge fund financial markets, as he often operates on both sides of the fence.
For example, Soros may be betting on economic crisis in some country, yet all the while also funding the very social groups that produce the civil unrest, causing the nation’s downfall or economic crisis.
Of the engagement in the current financial system and of his very successful role in predicting market ups and downs, Soros says: “I don’t feel guilty, because I am engaged in an amoral activity which is not meant to have anything to do with guilt”.
It is quite remarkable that a brilliant capitalist mogul such as Soros, openly states that he views his work in the financial market as “amoral activity”. The historic founders of capitalism would certainly disagree.
Gangster Capitalism and Soros: The initial form of Protestant Capitalism had solidarity, trust and accountability as core values. Yet, in the West today, a Capitalism devoid of morality has become the means to justify greed, injustice, and selfishness.
It may be argued that the deterioration of traditional values in the West is contributing to the economic decline. A quick glance at the recent 2007 financial crisis may serve an example. Leading financial acrobats and insurance giants, real estate agents and other individuals had over time developed structured financial products that ended up exploiting the forces of Capitalism in order to maximize personal gain.
They disregarded the basic rules on how value is created and acted solely with their own personal profit in mind. It became all too obvious that bubbles had been allowed to grow – bubbles of greed and lack of a moral code, which resulted in the coming lack of trust within the system.
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Gangster Capitalism and Soros: In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, sociologist Max Weber states that when modern Capitalism took form in Protestant countries such as Switzerland and Germany about two hundred years ago, the ideal was to earn money and increase wealth – not to squander one’s income away on status, luxury and consumerism.
The duty of the believer was to use their abilities to achieve success in all aspects of life, in order to honor God and help their fellow man. Christianity speaks of capital and finances as a means to build society and do good to others. One is to earn money in order to have something to give to society for the betterment of all.
The handling of money was definitively considered a question of morality. The moral duty of the capitalist owner was to reinvest into the economic system and make sure the whole society prospered.
The contingent culture of sincerity that Protestantism represented at that time emphasized pietistic, frugal attitudes combined with income-producing hard work. Solidarity was front and center, at the very core of the early Capitalists. One of the economic model’s brilliant principles was the association between saving and innovation.
Satyajit Das, a former banker, whom Bloomberg named one of the world’s 50 most influential financial figures in 2014, points out in The Age of Stagnation that fifty years back, America used to have its own industries, carpenters, electricians, factory workers. Then, most of this was outsourced to China and the Far East, leaving regular Americans without the manual skills that they used to have, the skills that once built America.
The financialization has increased the level of borrowing to finance consumption, investment and consumerism. There is a slower increase in innovation and productivity, as the West struggles with a lower and aging population and growing inequality.
By 2007, the debt level had risen beyond the repayment capacity of borrowers, causing the financial meltdown. He points out that the weight of debt eventually acts as a brake on growth. Capitalism is, after all, an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned – that is, individuals are to own the fruits of their own labor. The art of competition provides incentives for this particular individual to produce and excel.
When the individuals involved no longer work according to a certain standard, the system malfunctions and breaks down. The result of twisting the system was that the market’s circulation, the finance sector, was seriously injured. When the horrible result became known to everyone, it proved that Capitalism actually does work according to one of the fundamental Capitalist norms: the market will react to bad deals.
Regardless, it became clear that the economic sector desperately needs to strengthen its ethics. If the quest for wealth becomes a personalized project, “a financialization game” devoid of social responsibility and devoid of its initial focus on “the betterment of society,” it becomes a counterproductive catalyst for limitless greed.
There needs to be, as Adam Smith pointed out, a dissatisfaction to stimulate economic activity and growth – a constructive deconstruction, but one that does not overwhelm it all and cause a lack of balance which ends up causing both cultural and financial crisis.
Many have put the blame for the financial crisis on the bankers and real estate agents. However, the hunt for-profit by using loaned money – not your own – the race for consumerism and shopping only on overloaded credit cards, is something that was done by “almost everyone”. The blame cannot only be pinned on financial agents. They offered houses that many were more than willing to move into, knowing that they would not be able to pay the mortgage.
The over-heated house market in the US was one of the problems, but individuals who knew of their economic limitations still succumbed to the temptation to borrow more than they could afford. People wanted to seem richer than they actually were, not thinking of the consequences. It is a general challenge: too many want to seem richer than they are, seem higher on the social ladder than what they are, seem to be wealthier than they actually are.
Gangster Capitalism and Soros: One of the human challenges is that people tend not to be sufficiently sensible or rational. When we borrow more than we are able to pay back, and when banks issue larger loans than they know that the borrower can handle, both parties are not thinking clearly. We live in a loan addicted culture where the main goal is to seem to be rich.
The reason for the 2007 financial crisis is remarkably simple: too many were too greedy. The Capitalist system will not work without a certain sense of moral codex. If you disrespect the required ethics, you will get a Capitalism that acknowledges greed and cheating, as long as it benefits the individual involved. In the wake of this type of nihilist Capitalism – which acts as though there is no tomorrow – morality is no longer in the equation.
In addition, due to the transnational character of international banking, the mal-regulated system ended up – and is in 2017 still causing – serious economic downturns both in Europe and all over the world.