Oct 13th 2008

Nathan Gardels’ interview with George Soros: End of Financial Crisis could be in Sight

by Nathan Gardels

Nathan Gardels has been editor of New Perspectives Quarterly since it began publishing in 1985. He has served as editor of Global Viewpoint and Nobel Laureates Plus(services of Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media) since 1989. These services have a worldwide readership of 35 million in 15 languages. Gardels has written widely for The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Harper's, U.S. News & World Report and the New York Review of Books. He has also written for foreign publications, including Corriere della Sera, El Pais, Le Figaro, the Straits Times (Singapore), Yomiuri Shimbun, O'Estado de Sao Paulo, The Guardian, Die Welt and many others. His books include, "At Century's End: Great Minds Reflect on Our Times" and "The Changing Global Order." Since 1986, Gardels has been a Media Fellow of the World Economic Forum (Davos). He has lectured at the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in Rabat, Morocco and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, China. Gardels was a founding member at the New Delhi meeting of Intellectuels du Monde and a visiting researcher at the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow before the end of the Cold War. He has been a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, as well as the Pacific Council, for many years. From 1983 to 1985, Gardels was executive director of the Institute for National Strategy where he conducted policy research at the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow, the People's Institute of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, the Swedish Institute in Stockholm and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Bonn. Prior to this, he spent four years as key adviser to the Governor of California on economic affairs, with an emphasis on public investment, trade issues, the Pacific Basin and Mexico. Gardels holds degrees in Theory and Comparative Politics and in Architecture and Urban Planning from UCLA. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Lilly, and two sons, Carlos and Alexander. Gardels plays the cello on his free time.

Nathan Gardels: Let's talk first about the nature of the crisis. Thanks to low interest rates, global liquidity and deregulation, we have had a 25-year, self-reinforcing credit expansion bubble, leading to "irrational exuberance," as it was once said, in financial markets. Now we have the self-reinforcing crash of the stock and credit markets --"irrational despair" -- not justified by the economic fundamentals in the real economy.

How does this pattern fit your theory of reflexivity and your new paradigm for understanding finance?

George Soros: The key to understanding this crisis -- the worst since the 1930s -- is to see that it was generated within the financial system itself. What we are witnessing is not the result of some exogenous shock that knocked things off balance, as the prevailing paradigm, which believes markets are self-correcting, would suggest. The reality is that financial markets are self-destabilizing; occasionally they tend toward disequilibrium, not equilibrium.

The paradigm I'm proposing differs from the conventional wisdom in two respects. First, financial markets don't reflect the actual economic fundamentals. Expectations by traders and investors are always distorting them. Second, these distortions in the financial markets can affect the fundamentals -- as we see in both bubbles and crashes. Euphoria can lift housing and dot.com prices; panic can send sound banks tumbling.

That two-way connection -- that you affect what you reflect -- is what I call "reflexivity." That is how financial markets really work. Their instability is now spreading to the real economy, not the other way around. In short, the boom-bust sequences, the bubbles, are endemic to the financial system.

The current situation is not just about the housing bubble. The housing bubble was merely the trigger that detonated a much larger bubble. That super-bubble, created by the ever-increasing use of credit and debt leverage, combined with the conviction that markets are self-correcting, took more than 25 years to grow. Now it is exploding.

Gardels: What ought to be the "circuit breaker" that short-circuits the distortions that inevitably destabilize financial markets?

Soros: If bubbles are endemic in the system, then government regulators have to intervene to prevent bubbles from getting too big. Governments have to recognize that markets are not self-correcting. It is not enough to pick up the pieces after the crisis.

Gardels: Does the presence of the 24-hour global financial news cycle amplify and exaggerate distortions in the financial markets?

Soros: Without question, they accelerate the process. At the same time, I wouldn't overstate it. At the end of the 19th century, you didn't have 24-hour cable, but nevertheless you had the same kind of bubbles. Throughout the 19th century, when there was a laissez-faire mentality and insufficient regulation, you had one crisis after another. Each crisis brought about some reform. That is how central banking developed.

Gardels: How come all the efforts of the U.S. government so far -- the $700 billion rescue package, low Federal interest rates, backstopping deposits and commercial paper -- have not stemmed the crisis?

Soros: The U.S. authorities bought into market fundamentalist ideology. They thought that the markets would ultimately correct themselves. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson epitomized this. He thought that six months after the Bear Stearns crisis the market would have adjusted and, "Well, if Lehman (Brothers) goes bust, the system can take it." Instead, everything fell apart.
Since they did not understand the nature of the problem -- that the market would not correct itself -- they did not see the need for government intervention. They did not prepare a Plan B.
As the shock of the Lehman failure set in, he had to change his mind and rescue AIG. The next day there was a run on the money markets and commercial paper markets, so he turned around again and said we need a $700 billion bailout. But he wanted to put the money in the wrong place -- taking the toxic securities out of the hands of the banks.

They have finally now come around -- with the government buying equity in banks -- because they see the financial system is on the verge of collapse.

Gardels: Now that the U.S. authorities are at last on the right track, what are the key components of resolving the crisis?

Soros: The outlines are clear. There are five major elements.
-- First, the government needs to recapitalize the banking system by buying equity stakes in banks.
-- Second, interbank lending needs to be restarted with guarantees and bringing LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate) in line with Fed funds. This is in the works. It is going to happen.
-- Third, we must reform the mortgage system in the U.S., minimizing foreclosures and renegotiating loans so that mortgages are not worth more than houses. Stemming foreclosures will cushion the fall of housing prices.
-- Fourth, Europe has to fix a weakness of the Euro by creating a safety net for its banks. While initially resisting this, they have now found religion and done it at their meeting in Paris on Sunday.
-- Fifth, the IMF must deal with the vulnerability of countries at the periphery of the global financial system by providing a financial safety net. This is also in the works. The Japanese have already offered $200 billion for this purpose.
These five steps will start the healing process. If we implement these measures effectively, we will have passed through the worst of the financial crisis.

But then, I'm afraid, there is the fallout in the real economy, which is now gathering momentum. At this point, repairing the financial system will not stop a severe worldwide recession. Since, under this circumstance the U.S. consumer can no longer serve as the motor of the world economy, the U.S. government must stimulate demand. Because we face the menacing challenges of global warming and energy dependence, the next administration should direct any stimulus plan toward energy savings, developing alternative energy sources and building green infrastructure. This stimulus can be the new motor for the world economy.

Gardels: At the end of the day, won't we be looking at a vastly different global financial landscape? The U.S. will decline as the top power. It will have, along with parts of Europe, socialized banks and loads of debt. Communist China will be the new financial power globally, flush with capital and a major investor in the West.

Soros: U.S. influence will wane. It has already declined. For the past 25 years, we have been running a constant current account deficit. The Chinese and the oil-producing countries have been running a surplus. We have consumed more than we produced. While we have run up debt, they have acquired wealth with their savings. Increasingly, the Chinese will own a lot more of the world because they will be converting their dollar reserves and U.S. government bonds into real assets.

That changes the power relations. The powershift toward Asia is a consequence of the sins of the last 25 years on the part of the United States.


George Soros, the financier and philanthropist, is author most recently of The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means. He spoke with me in Washington, D.C., where the IMF and World Bank are meeting, on Sunday (October 12, 2008)


Copyright: New Perspectives Quarterly NPQ


From the Editor:

See also related article by George Soros: How to capitalise the banks and save the finance, Financial times, October 13, 2008

Watch video below of an interview given by George Soros to the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE):



If you wish to comment on this article, you can do so on-line.

Should you wish to publish your own article on the Facts & Arts website, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com. Please note that Facts & Arts shares its advertising revenue with those who have contributed material and have signed an agreement with us.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Oct 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s approach today is similar: first, insulate its citizens from a virulent pathogenic contagion with draconian public-health measures aimed at containing and mitigating the spread of the disease, and then – and only then – make judicious use of monetary and fiscal policy to reinforce the post-lockdown snapback. This is very different from the approach taken in the US, where the post-lockdown debate is more about using monetary and fiscal policies as front-line instruments of economic liberation, rather than relying on disciplined public-health measures aimed at virus containment........ This underscores the sharp contrast between China’s COVID-first strategy and the America-first approach of US President Donald Trump’s administration. In China, unlike the US, there is no political and public resistance to masks, social distancing, and aggressive testing as requisite norms of the COVID-19 era. Meanwhile, the US is in the midst of its third serious wave of infection while China continues to exercise prompt and effective control over new outbreaks. Earlier this autumn, for example, some nine million citizens in Qingdao were tested in just five days after a relatively small outbreak affecting fewer than 20 residents. By contrast, Trump wears his own experience with COVID-19 infection as some perverse badge of courage, rather than as a warning of what may lie ahead."
Oct 20th 2020
EXTRACTS: Disney has announced a significant restructuring of its media and entertainment business, boldly placing most of its growth ambitions and investments into its recently launched streaming service, Disney+…. From a corporate strategy perspective, the move is remarkable on two fronts. Firstly, the sheer velocity of this pivot for a company the size and age of Disney is, for lack of a better word, unprecedented….Let’s not forget that it was just last year that Disney held a near 40% revenue share of the US box office….. The fact that in just seven months of the pandemic breaking out, Disney decided to reinvent itself primarily around streaming speaks volumes about its expectations regarding the pandemic length. Clearly the group decided that waiting it out was no longer an option.”
Oct 10th 2020
EXTRACTS: "Strange as it is to say, but it is no longer uncommon to hear talk of insurrection, martial law, and civil war in the United States......... Apocalyptic warnings that next month’s election will descend into crisis are coming hard and fast....... While the atmosphere in the US is already alarming, it is worth considering just how bad things could become. There is ample reason to worry that an election-related conflict could devolve into atrocity crimes against black and brown civilians on US soil........ Genocide and mass atrocities have happened all too often, including in America. The question is not whether it could happen here, but whether it can be prevented."
Oct 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman published an article in the New York Times that articulated what has come to be known as the Friedman doctrine: “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” It was a theme he had developed in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, where he argued that the “one and only” responsibility business owes to society is the pursuit of profits within the legal rules of the game. The Friedman doctrine put its stamp on our era. It legitimized the freewheeling capitalism that produced economic insecurity, fueled rising inequality, deepened regional divides, and intensified climate change and other environmental problems. Ultimately, it also led to a social and political backlash. Many large businesses have responded by engaging in – or paying lip service to – the notion of corporate social responsibility."
Oct 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China is well on its way to becoming a cashless society. More than 600 million Chinese already use Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay to pay for much of what they purchase. Between them, the two companies control approximately 90% of China’s mobile payments market, which totaled some $17 trillion in 2019. A wide variety of sectors throughout China have since adopted Blockchain to pay bills, settle disputes in court and track shipments. The Chinese government understands that, via Blockchain, the issuance of its own cryptocurrency is an excellent way to track and record the movement of payments, goods and people."
Oct 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "The American Republic was founded by Protestants, and American elites were for a long time largely Protestant........But something extraordinary has happened since the republic was founded by Protestants in 1776. Five of the eight current Supreme Court justices are Catholics, and soon there may be six. The one Protestant on the court, Neil Gorsuch, was raised Catholic. (The other two justices are Jewish.) Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, is Catholic, as is the US attorney general, William Barr. And Joe Biden, who might be the next president, is Catholic, too."
Oct 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "...... the economic pain inflicted by COVID-19 is not being borne by publicly traded companies. It is falling on small businesses and individual service proprietors – from dry cleaners to restaurants to entertainment providers – that are not listed on the stock market (which leans more toward manufacturing). These smaller players simply do not have the capital needed to survive a shock of this duration and magnitude. And government programs that have helped keep them afloat for a while are beginning to lapse, raising the risk of a snowball effect in the event of a second wave."
Oct 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "Trump’s disinclination – and perhaps inability – to reach beyond his right-wing base, which is insufficient to elect him, also calls into question his political acumen, and is one of many reasons to doubt his basic intelligence (an issue on which he is quite sensitive). But one thing about the president is now clearer than ever: in order to perpetuate his hold on power, Trump is testing the constitution in unprecedented ways. "
Sep 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the US presidential election barely a month away, former Vice President Joe Biden and his advisers are devising his national-security policy and creating shortlists to fill the cabinet’s ranking positions in the event that he defeats President Donald Trump. But while presidential hopefuls traditionally have focused first on contenders to run the state, defense, and treasury departments, this time is different. With the intelligence community in an increasingly perilous state, Biden should choose a top spymaster before making any other personnel decisions."
Sep 29th 2020
While today's mounting global disruptions have accelerated an ongoing shift in global power dynamics, neither China's rise nor the emergence of COVID-19 can be blamed for the West's lost primacy. The United States and the United Kingdom took care of that on their own, with a complacent Europe watching it happen.
Sep 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "One thing is clear: the world cannot trust Xi’s dictatorship. The sooner we recognize this and act together, the sooner the Beijing bullies will have to behave better. The world will be safer and more prosperous for it."
Sep 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "Four years of political turmoil under Trump may well end with massive violence akin to a civil war. Trump is priming his base to act violently, and with over 390 million firearms in the hands of Americans, one can only imagine the calamitous consequences if violence is to erupt between his supporters and those who oppose him..... The Republican leadership in every state and every municipality are the prime body that can stop this potential calamity from occurring. Time is of the essence. Should the Republican Party as a whole fall short of taking a stand against Trump at this juncture, they will subject the nation to turmoil unseen since the Civil War. Not a single Republican leader will be able to claim that he or she were not warned."
Sep 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "I continue to expect this broad dollar index to plunge by as much as 35% by the end of 2021. This reflects three considerations: rapid deterioration in US macroeconomic imbalances, the ascendancy of the euro and the renminbi as viable alternatives, and the end of that special aura of American exceptionalism that has given the dollar Teflon-like resilience for most of the post-World War II era."
Sep 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Covid-19 essentially hit the “fast forward” button on emerging trends in a variety of sectors of national economies, hastening the demise of the shopping mall, laying bare how unnecessary being physically located in commercial work spaces is, and sounding the death knell for numerous 100+ year-old brands that had failed to adapt to the blistering pace of change in the digital economy. Failure to contemplate and embrace the future is leaving carnage in its wake.......The onslaught of dramatic change that has accompanied Covid-19 reminds us that fragile systems crack when exposed to unexpected events while antifragile systems have the ability to resist shocks."
Sep 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, recently declared that aggression and expansionism have never been in the Chinese nation’s “genes.” It is almost astonishing that he managed to say it with a straight face. Aggression and expansionism obviously are not genetic traits, but they have defined President Xi Jinping’s tenure. Xi, who in some ways has taken up the expansionist mantle of Mao Zedong, is attempting to implement a modern version of the tributary system that Chinese emperors used to establish authority over vassal states: submit to the emperor, and reap the benefits of peace and trade with the empire."
Sep 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Seventy-five years ago, the prestige of the United States and the United Kingdom could not have been higher. They had defeated imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and they did so in the name of freedom and democracy. True, their ally, Stalin’s Soviet Union, had different ideas about these fine ideals, and did most of the fighting against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Still, the English-speaking victors shaped the post-war order in large parts of the world. The basic principles of this order had been laid down in the Atlantic Charter, drawn up in 1941 by Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a battleship off the coast of Newfoundland."
Sep 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "After Trump’s inauguration in January of 2017, millions demonstrated their disapproval. We can expect the same, no matter how this election turns out. With both sides framing this election in “end of the world” terms; with the president calling into question the legitimacy of the vote, even before it happens; and with the president warning his supporters that they may have to take up arms to defend him – we have a recipe for disaster that may occur in the days that follow this election. This may very well be the Armageddon election of our lifetime."
Sep 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Huawei case is a harbinger of a world in which national security, privacy, and economics will interact in complicated ways. Global governance and multilateralism will often fail, for both good and bad reasons. The best we can expect is a regulatory patchwork, based on clear ground rules that help empower countries to pursue their core national interests without exporting their problems to others. Either we design this patchwork ourselves, or we will end up, willy-nilly, with a messy, less efficient, and more dangerous version."
Sep 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "China’s footprint in global foreign direct investment (FDI) has increased notably since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. That served to bring Chinese overseas FDI closer to a level that one would expect, based on the country’s weight in the global economy. China accounted for about 12% of global cross-border mergers and acquisitions and 9% of announced greenfield FDI projects between 2013 and 2018. Chinese overseas FDI rose from $10 billion in 2005 (0.5% of Chinese GDP) to nearly $180 billion in 2017 (1.5% of GDP). Likewise, annual construction contracts awarded to Chinese companies increased from $10 billion in 2005 to more than $100 billion in 2017."
Sep 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Emergence and spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 have created and still creating health issues, economic challenges, political crises and social conflicts around the world. These challenges and conflicts lead the international community to re-evaluate global governance and international structures, which is based on the second world-war and post-cold war. The pandemic will emerge a new era of international society that will not be similar to the pre-Corona world."