The Soros Lectures - George Soros

I'm not exactly sure what Caroline was doing in 1992, but she bought this book not because she recognised the name, but because of the opening sentence: '... I delivered this series of lectures in ... the Central European University ... that I established'. She thought anyone with the money and interest to start a new university might be worth listening to. I'm not sure whether Black Wednesday means anything to her. :)

So, this is a book of philosophising by an old hedge funder. The obvious comparison to me is with the work of Nassim Taleb. Taleb's trading was microeconomics, Soros's macroeconomic, and that comes across clearly in their respective theses. Taleb goes on about the existence of surprising outliers, in a fairly abstract way, with how one might manage them. Soros comes up with big, concrete reasons for the way markets behave, and why they keep 'surprising' us, predictably.

While Taleb had an unsettled family background, Soros's is something more extreme, fleeing both the Nazis and communists. It feels just that his explanations and profits are both bigger. His core idea is 'reflexivity' - on how models of the world and the world affect each other. In hard science, a model of the world is unlikely the change the world, but in other spheres things are very different. In politics, it's pretty much as if the ideas define reality, and bubbles in finance happen when bogus pricing ideas drive actual prices (thus justifying themselves). They're obvious concepts, but ones that have served Soros very, very well, and he's explained them neatly here.

This is a short book - just over 100 well-spaced pages - but it's a lovely insight into the man's ideas. Should we listen to someone just because they're incredibly rich? If it's on the subject of how to get incredibly rich, maybe so. Otherwise? It's difficult, and I think Soros understands the problem, but he's very much a European socialist(ish) multi-millionaire fund manager. He's able to distinguish between what makes it easy for him to make money, and what's right - he'll do profitable trades, but won't hide behind the invisible hand, instead coming down in favour of appropriate regulation. In full-on philanthropist mode, he really does put his money where his mouth is, and between that and a clearly thoughtful nature makes him an interesting person to listen to.

Posted 2010-03-15.