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Friday, October 18, 2013

George Soros, Carly Fiorina, Albert Schweitzer: Liberal Arts Slackers

I was recently invited to Washington DC to give a talk at the 36th Annual Fulbright Association Conference about the relevance of a liberal arts education in the 21st century economy. As the president of Pitzer College and an avid proponent of the liberal arts, this was not the first time I have received such an invitation.
I'm always pleased to have a chance to talk about the way we learn and teach, but I have to say, it's getting increasingly difficult for me to gin up another bully pulpit defense of a well-rounded education. I mean, really, at what point did we have to start defending the value of knowledge? Of complexity? Of depth? Of communication? And frankly it strikes me as odd to be asked to defend the liberal arts in a town where the government is shut down. There are some politicians who need to do some defending, not me.
I feel a particular kinship now to those physicians who have to keep explaining that Raisinets aren't really a fruit or that Cheetos have no nutritional value. I sympathize with financial analysts who have to make clear that there are consequences to spending more than you earn, and with elementary school teachers who have suggested that too much television inhibits the reading habits of children.

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George Soros was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1930. His father was taken prisoner during World War I and eventually fled from captivity in Russia to reunite with his family in Budapest. Soros was thirteen years old when Hitler's Wehrmacht seized Hungary and began deporting the country's Jews to extermination camps. In 1946, as the Soviet Union was taking control of the country, Soros attended a conference in the West and defected. He emigrated in 1947 to England, supported himself by working as a railroad porter and a restaurant waiter, graduated in 1952 from the London School of Economics, and obtained an entry-level position with an investment bank.

In 1956, Soros immigrated to the United States, working as a trader and analyst until 1963. During that time, he developed his own theory of markets called 'reflexivity', which he has laid out in his recent books THE ALCHEMY OF FINANCE and THE CREDIT CRISIS OF 2008 AND WHAT IT MEANS. In 1967 he helped establish an offshore investment fund; and in 1973 he set up a private investment firm that eventually evolved into the Quantum Fund, one of the first hedge funds, through which he accumulated a vast fortune.