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The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros

January 14th, 2009

Page 309 – Evaluation of the Experiment

The book provides a candid view of Soros’s thoughts.  Its interesting to hear him admit to failures and flaws, and is comforting to know he’s human and makes mistakes like the rest of us.  He chastises himself for experiencing losses after buying into an obviously overvalued Japanese equity market and he admits to the shortcomings of his various predictions.

Even in predicting financial markets my record is less than impressive: the best that can be said for it is that my theoreical framework enables me to understand the significance of events as they unfold – although the record is less than spotless.

….

Occasionally I develop some conviction and, when I do, the payoff can be substantial; but even then, there is an ever-present danger that the course of events fails to correspond to my expectations.

….

With regard to events in the real world, my record is downright dismal. The outstanding feature of my predictions is that I keep on expecting developments that do not materialize.  During the real-time experiment I often envisioned a recession that was just  around the corner, but it never occurred.

….

I have long nurtured the fantasy of becoming an economic reformer a la Keynes but the closer I come to getting a hearing for my views, the more acutely aware I become of my own limitations. My particular expertise is derived from the insight that all systems are flawed; but my understanding of any particular system is always inferior to that of the experts.  This holds true for security analysis as well as finance and economics.  When I sat for an examination as supervisory security analyst, I failed in every subject; in analyzing the credit-cum-regulatory cycle, I felt the lack of a thorough grounding in the theory of money; and, as the reader saw, in the real-time experiment my greatest weakness was in economic forecasting.

Page 372 – Epilogue

In the closing chapter of the book, we learn more about Soros the man and his motivations for writing the book.

He reminds us that the concept of reflexivity can also be used in the context of self:

Values are closely associated withteh concept of self – a reflexive concept if ever there was one… As we make our way in the world our sense of self evolves.  The relationship between what we think we are and what we are in reality is the key to happiness – in other words, it provides the subjective meaning of life… I could readily provide a reflexive interpretation of my own development but I am reluctant to do so because it would be too revealing, not to say incriminating.

We also find out that he has a grandiose vision of himself and that he prefers to be regarded as a great philosopher rather than as a great investor.  Some telling quotes include the following:

It will come as no surprise to the reader when I admit that I have always harborred an exaggerated view of my self-importance – to put it bluntly, I fancied myself as some kind of god or an economic reformer like Keynes or, even better, a scientist like Einstein (reflexivity sounds like relativity).  My sense of reality was strong enough to make me realize that these expectations were excessive and I kept them hidden as a guilty secret.  This was a source of considerable unhappiness through much of my adult life.  As I made my way in the world, reality came close enough to my fantasy to allow me to admit my secret, at least to myself.  Needless to say, I feel much happier as a result.

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