George Soros was born in Hungary in 1930. Raised in a Jewish family, he lost aunts and uncles to the Nazi death camps. This undoubtedly had a measurable effect on his intellectual development, instilling a lifelong interest in preventing the worst freedom-denying excesses of nationalism and xenophobia.
In 1947, at the age of 17, he applied to and was accepted at the London School of Economics. There, he studied under famed professor of philosophy Karl Popper. This marked the beginning of George Soros’ continuing fascination with and dedication to philosophy. Popper espoused the ideas set forth in his book Open Society and its Enemies. The ideas of minimizing harm and maximizing freedom for all people eschewed idealism or ideology and instead recognized and grappled with the practical limitations all societies face. For example, if one were granted total freedom that would necessarily entail the abridgment of another’s freedoms. George Soros became enthralled by such problems and was convinced by this early stage of his life that he would dedicate himself to the study and resolution of the world’s great problems.
However upon graduating a different reality set in. Faced with the necessity to make a living, Soros took a series of menial jobs. The last of these involved touring the English countryside selling luxury goods. Dissatisfied with this lifestyle, he resolved to go work for a New York investment firm. After applying to hundreds of investment houses with little luck, he was finally hired at a boutique firm named Singer and Friedman. He was 25 years old.
Over the next 15 years Soros would bounce from firm to firm, eventually rising to the level of vice president. Throughout this period he posted lackluster results. Many of his colleagues described him as being utterly engulfed in his philosophical work and mostly disinterested in the minutiae of Wall St.
Finally, nearing his 40th birthday, George Soros gathered enough investors to start his first company, Soros Fund Management. Curiously, he still seemed mostly unconcerned with making money. He recalls that even then, his goal was simply to make $500 thousand dollars so he could retire and dedicate himself to philosophical work. He ultimately decided to start his own fund not so much in the pursuit of gain, but as a way to test the myriad theories he had developed on how markets function.
But after some initial success in managing his own hedge fund, Soros slowly came to see the accumulation of wealth as the greatest way to implement the ideas that he had been elaborating for years. George Soros began to see himself as a philanthropist first, as financier a distant second. He came to see his increasingly vast wealth not as a source of personal comfort in which to luxuriate but as a duty conferred upon him to do everything in his power to shape the world into a freedom-maximizing macro society.
In this, George Soros is fundamentally different than his plutocratic peers. Whereas in recent times many professional politicians have sought political power for its attendant wealth Soros has come to view wealth as a source of political power. It’s hardly surprising then that he continues to deploy his vast resources to change the world for the better.