As the story goes, Henry Kaiser, who had made a fortune in the aluminum and shipyard businesses, wanted to start a car company shortly after World War II. When Kaiser told of his plans to invest $50 million, a nameless voice from the back of the room said, "Give the man one white chip."
Now another tycoon wants to take a gamble on the car business.
Billionaire investor George Soros emigrated from Hungary half a century ago and made his fortune in America. He is perhaps best known for his backing of left-wing causes. He tried and failed to get John Kerry elected president and to get marijuana legalized.
Now he's ready to pony up $200 million to entice Chinese automaker Chery Automobile Co. to build cars and sell them in America.
It makes you wonder what's in it for him.
Maybe he has an angle.
Investors who do as well as Soros usually know how to assess risks and rewards. And which deals to avoid. So it's intriguing that he would be interested in a deal that involves our new best pals, the former Chinese communists.
Yes, I know, the Chinese are doing their best to learn and practice capitalism. But they're at the id or early ego stage of personality development. At this moment, it's still all about them and their nationalistic needs.
They haven't learned yet -- or perhaps have forgotten from their previous dogma -- that capitalism is not about national borders and frontiers; it's about making money by exploiting downtrodden people all over the world.
Malcolm Bricklin, who already is involved with Chery, understands capitalism. Bricklin is a heckuva guy, but people have lost money in some of his ventures. Soros surely understands that.
Yet Soros is still willing to play in a game where the house controls everything.
Maybe this isn't about money.
Maybe it's a political food chain thing: You get the Chinese automakers to come to America to chomp away at the Koreans. The Koreans are then forced to move further upmarket and take a bite out of the Japanese, which in turn get even more aggressive about going after the traditional Big 3, which puts them out of business.
But that doesn't make sense.
It must be about the money.
But what can Soros expect to get for $200 million?
One white chip.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]