To George Soros, wealth is a means, not an end

George Soros grew up in difficult times. Born in 1930, his family was initially prosperous in an upper-middle-class sense. His family name was originally Schwartz, but his father had opted to change it to Soros amid a tension-filled climate of virulent anti-Semitism on Forbes. This move would prove far-sighted later, when some of Soros’ extended family was deported to the German death camps. This brush with death at the hands of ravenous nationalism had a profound effect on Soros and arguably formed the basis of his lifelong obsession with philosophy and its role in shaping the societies on nytimes.com in which people live.

In 1947, he was accepted to the London School of Economics where he had applied in order to study philosophy under the famous professor Karl Popper. Once there, the adolescent Soros became enraptured by the life of the mind, especially being influenced by Popper’s ideas and his seminal work, “The Open Society and Its Enemies”. This book would come to form the cornerstone of Soros’ worldview and he would even later name his flagship philanthropic organization on opensocietyfoundations.org, the Open Societies Foundations, after its title.

After graduating with a master’s degree in philosophy in 1954, Soros struck out into the world for the first time. But he could not find suitable work using his degree. Instead, he drifted from menial job to menial job, working for a time as a traveling salesman, among other things. After a few years of toiling at low drudgery, he decided to pursue loftier goals. Resolved to go work on Wall St., he contacted an old college friend who vouched for him, landing him his first financial job at a boutique firm called Singer and Friedlander.

Over the next 15 years, Soros worked on various trading floors and as a financial analyst. As a paid market analyst, he had plenty of time to ponder the workings of the financial world. He was still possessed by the love of philosophy, and it was during this time that he began developing his own theories of how markets work. He was still largely uninterested in the accumulation of wealth, hoping only to earn $500,000 so that he could retire to a life of academic inquiry.

In 1973, George Soros founded his first hedge fund, Soros Fund Management. It was during this period that he first began to acquire real personal wealth. However, unlike previous periods in his life, this time around, he began to see the acquisition of wealth as a means to effect real change in the world. As his bank account grew, his desire to tackle the same kinds of societal ills which had caused the death of his loved ones in the 1940s was rekindled. Shortly thereafter, George Soros founded his first philanthropic organization.

As the years wore on, the enormously successful trader began to donate more and more of his personal fortune to the causes in which he believed. He eventually was credited with toppling entire governments and radically changing the Eastern European political landscape. George Soros is among the greatest traders in history but he may also be the first true radical capitalist.

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