Billionaire George Soros called Wednesday for a massive injection of regulation and oversight of financial markets whose excessive freedoms have caused "not a normal crisis but the end of an era."
According to an article by Dan Perry, Associated Press, the Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist commanded center stage at the World Economic Forum with a dire analysis of recent days` market turmoil and a call for the creation of a "new sheriff" for global finance — details to be worked out later.
It was a stark and jarring message coming from one of the richest businessmen in the world — albeit one who is no stranger to controversy and politics and has seemed to pride himself on being a maverick.
"Authorities are working with the wrong paradigm," Soros told journalists at the annual gathering of the world`s political, business and academic elite in the Swiss ski resort.
Also Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a nod to the anxiety that has enveloped the World Economic Forum, said the U.S. economy was resilient and would remain an "engine of growth."
Speaking to an audience of chief executives and world leaders, Rice said the $150 billion stimulus package proposed by President Bush would "boost consumer spending and support business investment this year."
Her remarks came after two days of wild market swings worldwide and the surprise Federal Reserve interest rate cut on Tuesday lowered its benchmark rate to 3.5 percent from 4.25 percent in between regular policy-setting meetings.
"I know that many are concerned by the recent fluctuations in U.S. financial markets, and by concerns about the U.S. economy," she said. "President Bush has announced an outline of a meaningful fiscal growth package that will boost consumer spending and support business investment this year."
In his speech, Soros said it was a mistake to believe that markets will largely regulate themselves. "Financial markets don`t tend toward equilibrium — It`s a misconception."
"Authorities ought to go in and examine the books" of financial institutions, Soros said — and provide assurance that "they will rescue and even take over banks that become insolvent."
One participant asked: Might such willingness to effectively nationalize major institutions not spark further panic and only deepen the crisis? "It could be dangerous," Soros conceded.
Blaming the Fed
Soros blamed the U.S. Federal Reserve for keeping interest rates too low for too long.
Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the U.S. central bank, "will not look good in retrospect," he said, adding that successor Ben Bernanke also bore some of the blame since "the Fed has been somewhat asleep at the wheel."