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Why Ray Dalio Is Wrong On Capitalism

Written by John Mauldin | Jun 15, 2019

Ray Dalio is the thoughtful, somewhat controversial founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, which he started in 1975.

While much of his writing is private, I (and many others) peruse every word we can of his and the Bridgewater team’s thinking. I find it to be some of the most interesting market commentary I read.

Lately, Ray has been far more open with his thinking, posting books and essays. He posted on LinkedIn rather controversial stories: Why and How Capitalism Needs to Be Reformed, Parts 1 and 2 and a follow-up piece titled It’s Time to Look More Carefully at ‘Monetary Policy 3 (MP3)’ and “Modern Monetary Theory.

On first reading those, I will admit to thinking, “Ray Dalio is kinda, sorta wrong.” I agreed with much of Part 1, with a few quibbles. Ditto for Part 2. But when I read the third piece I found myself thinking, “Ray Dalio is really, really wrong.”

In that essay he basically endorses Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

Socialism Is Back

Coming from someone of Ray’s stature, and knowing that others like Bill Gross are beginning to endorse MMT either obliquely or directly, I found myself wanting to shout, “Stop! This is dangerous!”

He is clearly a generous man. And watching him in interviews and on stage, he is both disarming and comes across rather warmly. Definitely not dangerous. But ideas have consequences…

Ray has done us all a service by pointing out the elephants in the room (some tinged with pink), which are rarely mentioned in public discourse. We discuss various parts of the elephant, but seldom the entire creature.

By that, I mean the rapidly growing potential for left-of-center “progressive” control of both Congress and the White House. Part of that growth stems from an increasing frustration over the perceived differences between haves and have nots.

As The Economist reported recently, 51% of those polled between ages 18–29 have a positive view of socialism. That should scare you.

A growing number of that generation are taking that view into the voting booth. Democratic presidential candidates are all burnishing their “progressive” credentials.

I have zero insight into who might win that nomination fight, but there is a more than reasonable chance it will be the most left-leaning presidential nominee in a very long time, since at least George McGovern (for whom I voted).

And given the potential for recession between now and the election, they have a reasonable chance of winning.

Tough Choices

Just as Trump figured out how to energize the frustration of enough voters to win the presidency, it is likely we will see a populist nominated on the Democratic side.

A Democratic president and Congress will give us higher spending and taxes, and if that election happens amid recession, there will be an increasing drumbeat to “do something” radical.

The already-huge $2-trillion deficit we will have by then could easily swell even more.

Dalio, to his credit, recognizes that would be a negative outcome. He proposes dealing with the increasing deficit and debt via Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) or directly printing money. He also hopes it would help equalize the increasing income and wealth disparities.

I agree that we have a problem. The current situation could easily become a series of crises that would in fact be “existential,” as seen from today’s relatively benign world.

We are being forced into difficult choices, both political and economic, and the longer we kick the proverbial can down the road, not dealing with the real fundamental issues, the more difficult and starker those choices will be.

We are rapidly approaching a time in which there will be no good choices, only extremely difficult, controversial and/or bad choices, none of which resolve the fundamental problems.

That said, we need to make sure our choices don’t exacerbate the problems.

Is Capitalism the Problem?

Dalio talks about wealth and income disparity as a failure of capitalism. He argues that capitalism is not achieving its goal of more equitably distributing the fruits [read: profits] of capitalism.

To his point, my good friend Ben Hunt of Epsilon Theory notes that the S&P 500 companies have the highest earnings relative to sales in history.

Let me push back with what is admittedly a small quibble in the grand scheme of things. I think of capitalism more in the context of property rights, rule of law, and free markets.

Properly understood, it provides a level playing field for entrepreneurs to offer goods and services that produce incomes and profits. I don’t think equitably distributing those profits is capitalism’s role.

Ensuring that all participants are treated fairly and, to some extent, regulating these personal and corporate endeavors is the role of society in general and government in particular.

So when you say that capitalists are not very good at sharing profits, I would say that capitalism is not designed to do so. That is the role of society and government.

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John Mauldin

John Mauldin is the president of Mauldin Economics, a noted financial expert, a New York Times best-selling author, a pioneering online commentator. He writes one of the most widely read investment newsletters in the world— Thoughts from the Frontline.

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2019/06/15
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