Billionaires can’t escape public scrutiny, so now they’re trying to shape it
Ray Dalio’s 7,500-word missive reflects a new reality for the world’s wealthiest people in 2019.
The world’s wealthiest people have been tripping over themselves to become the most convincing apologists for the
The world’s wealthiest people have been tripping over themselves to become the most convincing apologists for the system that propelled them into their well-appointed stratosphere.
The latest entrant is Ray Dalio, the hedge fund titan who has become the newest billionaire to offer a fleshed-out criticism of the capitalist economy he sees as unsustainable. Dalio’s comments in recent days reflect a new reality that is not lost on the world’s richest: They are subjects of scrutiny and suspicion, from both the left and the right.
Fans of Dalio’s message would call it a welcome reckoning. Cynics would call it virtue signaling. Both could reasonably call it savvy politics.
“I think that if I was the president of the United States — or it has to come from the top — what I would do is recognize that this is a national emergency,” Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, said in an interview on 60 Minutes this weekend. “It’s unfair, and it’s unproductive, and at the same time it threatens to split us.”
With a net worth of $18 billion making him the 57th wealthiest person in the world, Dalio joins a growing list of billionaires who seem eager to cast aspersions on the economic ladder they successfully climbed. Warren Buffett for eight years has been calling for the rich to pay more in taxes.
Another hedge fund legend, Paul Tudor Jones, has called for “modernizing” and “rethinking” capitalism, for years pushing a ranking system that would judge corporations not purely on value they create for shareholders but on how “just” they are. Jones also recently signed The Giving Pledge, Recode has learned, committing to giving half of his money away to charity before he dies.
Meanwhile, Buffett’s close partner in weighing the responsibilities of the megawealthy, Bill Gates, has more recently been voicing comfort with disempowering billionaires.
The idea of “abolishing” billionaires may very well remain a point on the fringes of the political debate. But no more can the world’s wealthiest people escape the conversation about the power they’ve accumulated. The conversation has come to them. And there is value in shaping it on their terms.
And so Dalio’s criticism of the capitalist system is revealing in its effort to address the problem, even if not in detail. In a two-part, 7,500-word, 58-footnote LinkedIn post this weekend, Dalio calls for a series of policy changes he thinks will “reform” the system — beginning with his declaration of wealth inequality as a national emergency. His other priorities:
- More joint programs between the government and corporations that would invest in projects with both economic and social impact — or in what is known as impact investments.
- Increase taxes on things that have negative impacts on society, like pollutants.
- Raise taxes on the wealthy (by an unspecified amount) and spend the money on services for lower-income people.
Dalio needs to offer more detail on, well, all of this. He may be a generous philanthropist — his foundation gives away over $100 million a year and he, too, has signed The Giving Pledge — but a policy platform this is not. A framework and an openness to meet some of the demands of billionaires’ critics, yes, but one that easily could melt to meaninglessness when it comes to specifics.
None of these are ground-breaking ideas, to be sure. But at a time when Democratic presidential candidates are struggling to answer whether they would even call themselves capitalists at all, his effort to try and sell his version of a middle ground for billionaire ethics makes strategic sense — even if this is all only for marketing purposes.
“I believe that all good things taken to an extreme can be self-destructive and that everything must evolve or die,” Dalio writes. “This is now true for capitalism.”