The following is an edited and expanded version of an interview with George Soros, Chairman, Soros Fund Management, by Judy Woodruff on Bloomberg TV on April 4.
Judy Woodruff: You write in your new book, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets,1 that “we are in the midst of a financial crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.” Was this crisis avoidable?
George Soros: I think it was, but it would have required recognition that the system, as it currently operates, is built on false premises. Unfortunately, we have an idea of market fundamentalism, which is now the dominant ideology, holding that markets are self-correcting; and this is false because it’s generally the intervention of the authorities that saves the markets when they get into trouble. Since 1980, we have had about five or six crises: the international banking crisis in 1982, the bankruptcy of Continental Illinois in 1984, and the failure of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, to name only three.
Each time, it’s the authorities that bail out the market, or organize companies to do so. So the regulators have precedents they should be aware of. But somehow this idea that markets tend to equilibrium and that deviations are random has gained acceptance and all of these fancy instruments for investment have been built on them.
There are now, for example, complex forms of investment such as credit-default swaps that make it possible for investors to bet on the possibility that companies will default on repaying loans. Such bets on credit defaults now make up a $45 trillion market that is entirely unregulated. It amounts to more than five times the total of the US government bond market. The large potential risks of such investments are not being acknowledged.
Woodruff: How can so many smart people not realize this?
Soros: In my new book I put forward a general theory of reflexivity, emphasizing how important misconceptions are in shaping history. So it’s not really unusual; it’s just that we don’t recognize the misconceptions.
Woodruff: Who could have? You said it would have been avoidable if people had understood what’s wrong with the current system. Who should have recognized that?
Soros: The authorities, the regulators—the Federal Reserve and the Treasury—really failed to see what was happening. One Fed governor, Edward Gramlich, warned of a coming crisis in subprime mortgages in a speech published in 2004 and a book published in 2007, among other statements. So a number of people could see it coming. And somehow, the authorities didn’t want to see it coming. So it came as a surprise.
Woodruff: The chairman of the Fed, Mr. Bernanke? His predecessor, Mr. Greenspan?
Soros: All of the above. But I don’t hold them personally responsible because you have a whole establishment involved. The economics profession has developed theories of “random walks” and “rational expectations” that are supposed to account for market movements. That’s what you learn in college. Now, when you come into the market, you tend to forget it because you realize that that’s not how the markets work. But nevertheless, it’s in some way the basis of your thinking.
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