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The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror Hardcover – June 12, 2006
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"It is hard to deny [Soros'] thorough familiarity with today's profoundly interdependent world." -- The St. Louis Post Dispatch
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First you must get past the jargon of his theory of reflexivity, extreme disequlibrium, and the intersection of cognitive and participatory functions, etc etc. "This fact, that our thinking forms part of what we think about, has far reaching implications both for our thinking and for reality. It sets some insuperable obstacles to understanding reality and it also renders reality different from what we understand it to be. Some aspects of reality permit us to acquire knowledge but others are not amenable to dispationate understanding and reality as a whole belongs to that category." and that is only on page 4.
We live in an uncertain world, and we must make decisions based on less than perfect information. Reality is ever changing and flexibility is essential. In a world of uncertainty good decisions can yield bad results. Results from even the brightest often succeed and fail on randomness. As a very succesful financial trader he knows this better than most.
He is generous in admitting his own failures in assessing some of his foundation work developing open societies (a society that knows that truth is uncertain and unknowable and therefore tolerates multiple views,) but there is a critical difference between the success he has enjoyed in the world of markets and the success he can hope for in global politics.
In the financial markets you can be wrong more than half the time and still win big, if you control your losses and let your winners ride. In the political world you can be right 90% of the time and still lose elections or cause disastrous conflicts.
While Bush's rhetoric may have caused damage and while he certainly may have made mistakes, Soros sinks into quasi conspiracy and sinister theories instead of recognizing actions for what they probably really are: difficult actions based on imperfect information in an uncertain world in the paranoid aftermath of 911.
Yes he can blame Bush for polarizing Muslim factions, but he could have also held the Arab world to some accountability, the Europeans, Russians, Chinese , and Koreans for supplying them, and the UN for doing their bidding.
Short of blaming Bush and the Americans for their 'feel good' society Soros offers little in the way of addressing the growing threat and clear evil of Islamic Fascism. Perhaps the fallibility he should address is that of his own fine intelligence and experience.
The abstract concepts at the start of the book are interesting and, I think, are valid. Also, I do like the manner in which George Soros links his thought to his personal work. I do get the impression that he does walk the talk. He is willing to admit his own fallibility, and this is something I like.
Yet, I don't quite understand how the book is all about the consequences of the war on terror. His ideas around the 'feel good' and 'open' societies are good, and and can be books in themselves. India, for instance, is not really an open society anymore.
However, some more thoughts around the war on terror would have been welcome.
The Age of Fallibility is at its core as much a philosophical treatise as an exploration of global affairs. Soros has a pretty well developed world view and philosophy. His `reflexivity' approach to events (markets and otherwise) has been expressed in his earlier books, and is further refined in this one. That is the part of the book which will appeal to traders and investors, as it helps to explain how he looks at the larger movement of markets and how predictable patterns of behavior can be seen. For those who like to take a big picture view of things, it is definitely something worth reading.
As for the remainder of the book, that is a combination of explaining open society, exploring global politics, and attacking America's foreign policy, as the title would imply (though no major global player is left out of the discussion or immune from criticism). If you are an open-minded sort then you will find Soros' views very interesting. In particular, I found his discussion on the concept of the "war on terror" very interesting.
No matter what you think of Soros or his politics (and many folks rightly or wrongly have a negative view of him), the fact of the matter is the man has a perspective on things few can offer based on his experience operating his various organizations. As such, he is definitely someone to whom we should at least listen. If you can do that, I guarantee he'll have you thinking at several points in the text. If not, then this may not be a book you'll want to read.
I personally started the book wondering if the arrogance I found in his earlier market focused books would be apparent in this one too, but I found it wasn't. The style was very engaging throughout and what he had to say thought provoking. If that's what you look for in a current events type of book, then you will like this one, all the more for the fact that though the book was written in 2006, it has enough of a macro scope to it to make the subject matter still quite meaningful now in 2008.