The Rule of Discretion versus the Rule of Law: Soros Gets Nailed

by Mario Rizzo

In a previous post I reported a Cato Institute panel discussion of Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty (as reissued in a new edition by The University of Chicago Press). This discussion was among Bruce Caldwell (Duke University), Ronald Hamowy (Cato and the University of Alberta), Richard Epstein (New York University), and George Soros, the mega-financier.

In this discussion, ostensibly about the rule of law, Soros said that the complexities of the financial sector require a new class of regulations that may not be simple, predictable and transparent. They may require considerable discretion on the part of regulators. This is because financial markets are the locus of radical uncertainty. It is thus impossible to predict beforehand the kinds of financial-instrument developments that will occur and, especially, the consequences these will have. Thus the financial regulations must be able to be creative in dealing with such developments. This apparently means the rule of law in its traditional sense will have to be bent or compromised. Continue reading

Soros and Open Society in America

by Chidem Kurdas

George Soros originally intended to wind down his Open Society Foundations at the end of his life but changed his mind. This worldwide network of activist groups – to whom he has given more than $8 billion and named after Karl Popper’s classic The Open Society and Its Enemies – is to continue operating after he’s gone.

In Eastern Europe, the network helped undermine communist regimes and bring about freer societies. The main mission ascribed by Mr. Soros is to hold governments accountable in countries that lack civil institutions. It has to be a bitter irony that he sees the United States, the long-time home of many such institutions, in serious danger of ceasing to be an open society, given the increasingly manipulative and deceptive public discourse.

He was an early and aggressive backer of Barack Obama apparently in the belief that the then presidential candidate would stop the dangerous trend. Now he is disappointed. Continue reading

Public Unions vs. the Real Underdog

by Chidem Kurdas

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker successfully made the financial case to limit collective bargaining by public unions. Not only have the unions imposed an immense burden on taxpayers, present and future, but they create bureaucratic rigidities that cause dysfunction and, in financial crunches, layoffs of promising employees.

Yet in recent weeks it has become noticeable that these points fail to persuade many Americans.  The Wisconsin bill that just passed and similar reforms in other states face furious opposition, including appeals to the public.  Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to highlight another aspect of government unions, in addition to the purely economic issues.

We need to understand why part of the public supports unions. The best explanation that I’ve seen is from Richard Epstein in Free Markets Under Siege, a 2005 book that analyzes unions and agricultural price supports as examples of cartels in different markets.  These cartels impose social costs and require special dispensation from antitrust law. Why did the rest of the population accept the costs?  “Never underestimate the enhanced political sympathy when the underdog seeks to gain state power,” Professor Epstein points out. Continue reading

Goldman Sachs Hate Week

by Chidem Kurdas

George Orwell’s classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, describes a political ceremony called the Two Minute Hate, featuring Public Enemy Number One, a reprobate named Goldstein. People attend official rituals to work up a frenzy of hatred against Goldstein and love for their protector, Big Brother, or B-B.

To quote Orwell, at the climax of the Two Minute Hate, “the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmical chant of “B-B! … B-B! …B-B!” – over and over again…” This daily rite is supplemented with elaborately prepared Hate Weeks.

In the past week there has been a similar fury in the media against Goldman Sachs, with herds of pundits all expressing their horror of the derivatives deal that is at the center of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud case against the investment bank. This campaign starts with chants of “Social Benefit! Social Benefit! Social Benefit!” and climaxes with “Regulation! Regulation! Regulation!” Thus a mythical regulator stands in for B-B.

To pick one example out of many, George Soros writes that “Whether or not Goldman is guilty, the transaction in question clearly had no social benefit.” Mr. Soros is wise to hedge his bet about Goldman’s guilt—the SEC complaint contains holes the size of the real estate bubble. But was the mortgage-based collateralized debt obligation really devoid of social value? Continue reading