The Guardian view on George Soros: the best of the 1% | Editorial | Opinion

Published on February 13, 2018

Many billionaires try to influence the politics of countries that aren’t their own. Most do so by stealth but George Soros is open – and usually right














George Soros, the billionaire who has been campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU.
Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

George Soros is hardly the first billionaire to spend some of his money trying to influence the policies of countries where he does not live or have a vote: the papers that have led the charge against his funding of anti-Brexit organisations are all owned by such men even if none is as rich as he is. And his decision to spend money campaigning for the remain cause should be welcomed. The public gift of another £100,000 to Best for Britain, a campaign group fighting to stay in the EU, could not be a better gesture of defiance at his enemies after he had been accused of masterminding a private campaign for the same end.

Mr Soros has for years been the target of organised hate campaigns, often coloured with antisemitism, which seem to go far beyond the hostility aimed at other international power figures. Only Rupert Murdoch enjoys a similar reputation as a sinister manipulator of democratic governments, and he is the target of much less orchestrated loathing.

In the US, such men are astonishingly powerful: the examples of Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers show that rich men there invest large sums in influence over policy. They operate on the right, and Mr Soros is broadly on the left, although it’s an odd sidelight on the state of politics that a man who made his money in currency speculation should be regarded as a saviour of progressive causes.

The origin of his money is significant in as much as it highlights what is really unique about Mr Soros. This isn’t the direction of his political efforts: there are other philanthropist billionaires. But most of them inherited their money. Mr Soros made his by the careful study and exploitation of human irrationality. Then he decided to spend the fruits of his labour on making the world a slightly less irrational place. The contrast with most other rich men, whose political programmes might be summarised as “winner takes more”, could hardly be greater.

The spectacle of a really effective philanthropist will always arouse indignation and envy as well as admiration, because the example they set is a slightly shaming one. Beyond that, the particular direction of Mr Soros’s philanthropy implies that his opponents are unreasonable as well as wrong. Naturally this is resented.

Yet it is astonishing how consistently right Mr Soros has been, and how seldom on the side of might. The danger and insecurity of his adolescence as a secret Jew in Nazi-occupied Budapest seems to have given him a lasting sympathy for the outsider and the underdog. It also makes utterly unforgiveable the recruitment of antisemitic tropes in the attacks on his policies and his ideas. He has supported drug legalisation, equal marriage, and the rights of the Roma people. All this has been done quite openly and above board. All have required a change of public attitude as well as of legislation. This is also the aim of his efforts on Brexit.

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