[MUSIC] (SINGING) When you walk in a room, do you have sway?
I’m Kara Swisher and you’re listening to “Sway.” My guest today is Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates. Dalio made his fortune betting on or against the future. In the 2000’s, for example, he anticipated the housing crisis. When the economy went into a tailspin, Dalio’s firm reaped the rewards. Now it seems like Dalio is betting that world power is shifting, with China on the rise and U.S. dominance on the decline. Anyone who’s covered tech for a while has certainly seen that coming.
He documents this theory in his latest book, “The Changing World Order,” which centers on debt, inequity and polarization, basically an America that’s coming apart at the seams. So I wanted to dig into all that with Dalio and press him for some solutions. For example, and I’m just spitballing here, how about a tax on billionaires like him?
Ray Dalio, welcome to “Sway.”
Hi, glad to be here.
So last time we talked was your first book, which was a big, fat book that could kill a poodle if you threw it on it. Talk a little bit about what made you do this book?
Well, I learned a long time ago that events that surprised me were, in many cases, things that didn’t happen in my lifetime before. For example, 2008 financial crisis, I understood that only because I studied the Great Depression. In other words, I needed to go before my lifetimes in order to understand them. So three big things are happening in our lifetime that never happened before. And those three things, most importantly, they are the main drivers of our existence today.
So let’s go through them. Because this is effectively a book about how economic empires rise and fall. So, can you distill the argument? I know it’s an entire book, but talk about these three things, and the big cycle, and where the U.S. is within it.
OK. And by the way, it’s not economic. You can’t separate economics from politics.
100 percent, never could.
So, it’s the rise and decline of empires and it’s about world power and money, right? So the three things are — first, about money. The creation of an enormous amount of debt and the monetizing that. That means the printing of money to — when you don’t have enough money and you want to have more buying power, all countries, through history, create this debt and they monetize it. And that has an impact. It has an inflationary impact, that we’re experiencing now. It has an impact on the value of money. OK, so that’s number one.
Connected to that is number two, that I never saw in my lifetime this way, is the amount of internal conflict. We have the largest wealth gap. We have the largest income gap. And we are having the largest political gaps since 1900. And so, democracy is not working for us in the way it did. And what we’re having is populism of the Right and populism of the Left. And irreconcilable differences in ways that never existed in my lifetime, but happened many times before.
Many times before in our history.
And the third is the rising of a great power to challenge the existing great power and the existing world order. These world orders always happen for the same reason. There are irreconcilable differences. There’s a war. Somebody wins the war, some group wins the war. They’ve got the power. They set the rules. They carve up the world. They have the reserve currency.
And then you go a while, and then another power comes and rises, and challenges that power. And then they have a war, or somebody’s got to determine the rules. And then you have — tend to have a conflict. And so, we have these three things happening. And when those three things happen together, which is — the last time was the 1930 to ‘45 period, but you can go back in history and you could see the reason countries rise and decline. And I — what I wanted to do was to measure these things, so I’m not looking at them subjectively.
Right so this is polarization, political polarization, money, a of free money policy, essentially, and the rise of China is, in this case, correct?
China and its allies, and the United States and its allies. And so we are now seeing that clarify as to who’s aligned with whom.
Right. You do say in the book, “Times ahead will be radically different from those we’ve experienced in our lifetimes, though similar to many times in history.” And there was a pretty funny review of you in The Wall Street Journal, quote, “I ran this fluffy line by the college student in my household. Safe bet, was his response.” Because it is a safe bet. I mean, again, we’ve seen these cycles. I was just finishing the Hamilton book, finally, after four years of reading it. And it’s similar kind of things — disinformation, polarization, worries about keeping the government together, rising of other powers. What is different right now? Because this is not the first imperial cycle we’re in.
I don’t find it very different in many ways. I think we have to say, what is it and how does it work?
So the take is somewhat fatalistic, that it’s. — this is just we’re going to keep going in these endless rounds of the same old, same old. What is your response to that?
That it all depends on the basic fundamentals. I think it’s so important that we understand the cause, effect relationships. It’s just like health — if we can educate our population, move to something more equal opportunity, if we can work together, if we can be afraid of the polarity and work toward having the middle.
Like, the population right now is, if you look at the profile, the majority of people still don’t have that great of polarity, but politically, it represents a high percentage of the Republican Party, because of the way the politics works. And it’s becoming greater and greater polarized. So you’re seeing, for example, moderates choose not to run for re-election. And nobody, almost, can be a moderate, because we’re in an era of populism, in which each side says, I want the person who’s going to fight for me. And when they have that, and you have that standoff that way, you lose compromise.
So at least that one area, it seems like it’s not easily reversible, in that regard, correct? I mean, you’re saying, well, then let’s just reverse it.
My view is you have alternatives. For example, I think if the President of the United States was to say I’d have a bipartisan cabinet, or if you were to work for that, that would help. I’m not saying that this is probable that we will get out of this. I think that there is a good possibility, too high a possibility that there’ll be irreconcilable differences and that the system will not accept the rules, such as who’s elected. And we’re increasingly seeing the movement of populations to different states, partially for tax reasons, but partially for values reasons.
So, I expect that there will be a separation, an increased separation of going to different locations, that will produce a hollowing out economically of some places. And that will produce conflicts between states. And I worry that we will have a situation in which there’s not the respect for the rules and not the compromise, that I believe is a threat to democracy. I’m not saying that’s a certainty. I’m saying that the probability of that from watching history and watching this happen over and over, is high.
Because in each of those cases — if I take the French Revolution or Civil War, the Russian Revolution, which was a civil war, the Chinese, the Cuban, there were always people in the middle, but they became more and more extreme, because the ability to communicate. And everybody wanted to choose their leaders who would fight for them. And that we are going through that kind of a dynamic that probably will not lend itself to coming closer together and that kind of a resolution.
All right, let’s get back to some of these indicators. You use different number of indicators to trace the rise and fall of global economic power, but you pay particular attention to how much debt a country has. Why is that?
Well, it’s a reflection of their financial condition. As you know, in the book there are 18 measures. Education, and civility with each other, and productivity are the most important influences. If you have a well-educated population — and education also means civility with each other, and you’re productive, you have productivity, that’s the greatest source of stability and strength. The indebtedness is a reflection of the fact that you’re spending more than you are earning. And that means that someone’s financial debt is another man’s financial assets.
And so, there are right now over $30 trillion in U.S. dollar denominated debt that someone is holding as an asset, that is being inflated away. That produces a dynamic that produces an inflationary spiral. Because people want to sell those bonds. Well, they can’t. There’s too many of those and they can’t. So in almost all cases of decline, before there’s the war, the internal war or the external war, you always see this dynamic.
This rising dynamic of debt.
And the printing of money.
OK, now some economic theories reject the idea that debt is always a problem, modern monetary theory, for example. Tell me why you’re right and if there’s any middle ground here. And for those who don’t know, modern monetary theory claims the government, like the U.S., can spend more freely, so long as it borrows in its own currency. As New York Magazine put it, the U.S. can’t run out of dollars because it can print them. So tell me why you’re right and if there’s any middle ground between you and the MMTs.
It’s so totally correct that the United States can’t run out of dollars because they print them. But again, what MMT doesn’t deal with is the fact that one man’s debts are another man’s assets. And so, what happens is — throughout history, this has always happened — that if you print it and you have lower buying power, you don’t want to hold your wealth in that. If you think about — like people think that their money is safe if it’s in cash, but last year they lost over 7 percent in buying power. And they’re losing buying power at a very fast rate.
And as they wake up to that, and they are now waking up to that, then they sell that debt. And what that means, mechanistically, is the central bank then either comes in and prints more money, because they have to make up for those people who are leaving, which creates more inflation, or they don’t print the money. And when they don’t print the money, then you have a debt crisis.
So that’s where we are in the cycle. That’s the mechanics of it. It’s been the mechanics throughout history. I wish it was true. I wish MMT was true, which means, OK, actually you can print and borrow all that you want and there are no problems with it. But, I mean, come on.
Right, right, OK, but you think there’s no middle ground. You cannot do — there’s no way —
I’m just dealing with the supply, demand, the mechanics literally — like, do you want to hold your money? Do you want to hold your money in cash now? I mean, you decide what you want to do. You can do that. But it would be — it seems pretty crazy to me. And that’s where we’re making a shift right now. There’s a very big paradigm shift that’s going on, in which there’s a state where you came from not worrying about inflation. These paradigm shifts last about 10 years.
And the way they work is there’s a certain mentality that everybody believes. And that new paradigm is, we don’t worry about inflation, we have new technologies, and so on. And everybody wants to be in the new tech stocks, because they’re going to be the revolution. But they don’t pay much attention to the price. And that the central bank produces a lot of money, so you produce a lot of liquidity. And that process starts to have one extreme confidence in one thing.
Then there’s the wake-up call. Then there’s the adjustment to the wake-up call. In other words, now people are thinking, well, maybe I shouldn’t keep my money in cash. And they also start to think about inflation. So people, when they enter into labor contracts, they want more protections for inflation. Or they are buying assets to protect themselves against inflation, which contributes more to inflation.
And when that happens, then the central bank has to do what the central bank is doing, it tightens monetary policy. So you lose money to inflation and your interest bill goes up. And that creates a squeeze that becomes intolerable. And that’s the way the system has always worked.
Right, OK. So, in that case — that’s the second thing that’s a problem. Let’s move on to China, which is the ascendant power in your book. By the way “The Wall Street Journal” said you were in the thrall of Beijing and that you explain away China’s refusal to democratize. I didn’t write it, right.
No, no, no, I got it, I got it.
So first talk about that. You’ve pointed to China as the next great power. And I think a lot of people feel that way. I have been talking about it quite a bit from the technology perspective, because many people I trust are like, this is where it’s going. You can see the innovation in that country in that regard, in the sector I focus in on. Talk a little bit about why you have such — I’m going to say regard for China, because I suspect you don’t like what they’re doing the Uyghurs, and refusal to democratize, but talk about where you think that country is right now.
I will, and I’ll explain it. And I also say, one of the great concerns that I have is that we’re almost in an environment in which it’s difficult to be objective and say there are pros and cons that we could look at. And that absence of understanding, or even trying to say there are pros and cons that we need to look at objectively, can be taken of the fact that I’m in China’s pocket, or anti-American, or something. It’s almost become a McCarthyism in a sense. So that phenomenon is interesting, in and of itself.
But OK, my background is that first, I have to be objective. You know, I place bets and my performance can be measured to three decimal places or something. I’ve been going to China since 1984. My experiences has been in helping them build their financial system and having interactions that had nothing to do with politics. It was just getting to know each other. And that’s put me in a position of getting to know a lot of people, from very simple poor people to people who are in the highest positions of authority. That gave me some understanding of where they’re coming from.
Since I went there in 1984, per capita income has increased. The life expectancy rate has increased by 10 years. The poverty rate, measured by hunger, has gone from 88 percent to less than 1 percent. And so, I think almost anybody looking at that would say, wow, here it is, 1.4 billion people making a transformation, that’s quite something. And there’s a force behind that that exists. So it would be, in my opinion, I don’t know, stupid or naive to say, OK, China is not a rival, we shouldn’t worry about that rivalry, or something along those lines.
Right but talk about that idea of McCarthyism. Saying they’re strong — you can say they’re very strong and, obviously, moving forward and past us. I’ve heard that from many leaders, in the military, in technology, et cetera. So how do you square their record on human rights with this incredibly vibrant economy and innovative economy? How do you look at that together?
I think it’s in an incredibly difficult question for everybody who is doing business or is even consuming the goods. How can you be informed about everything and you make those judgments? So, for example, everybody who’s buying Nike’s, everybody who’s buying Apple products — 20 percent of the items that are manufactured items imported come from China. And many, many businesses, they’re connected and they’re operating that way.
And they’re all really looking for the guidance from the countries that they’re dealing with. In other words, I’m looking for guidance from the United States and I need to follow the rules of those particular places and find those. And I can’t be an expert in all of those particular dimensions. Most importantly is that I follow the rules and operate that way.
But I think the real question is, who’s responsible for making those assessments of the pros and cons, right? I think we need more law and clarity. Because if we’re going to be in a legal society, in which there’s guidance, it’s not just that we all individually form these opinions and do it. I don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes. I don’t know enough about all of those issues to be able to make those types of decisions. I rely on the government.
So, the question I would ask, Kara, is, OK, so why aren’t you asking that question of our government? OK, in other words, it is their —
Because I’m talking to you, Ray.
I’m talking to you, Ray, that’s why. I’m talking to our government.
Well, but I’m not responsible for these decisions, OK. I’m not capable of resolving all the different ways that we should be with each other, either internally or externally.
OK, all right, well, it’s a bit of an ignorance is bliss argument there, but you know —
No, wait a second, let me just reverse that. Do you believe that you — that your opinions should govern what is going on in all different things?
No. No, no, but certainly — for example, I just pulled an event out of Florida after the recent series of laws. I just don’t want to give them my money. I’d rather give it to Colorado or California.
That’s fine. That’s a matter of personal choice, right? But if you’re going to get into something like, would you protest masks or would you do this thing or that, sometimes — the system that we’re in is that you have guidance from a legal system. OK, that’s an important thing.
Right, that the government should be making these determinations, so that everybody could the guidelines, in other words.
Yeah, I mean, even how you — what is tax depreciation? What should tax rates be? Like, I think we have a terrible inequity in terms of opportunity and wealth distribution, OK. I approach it the way that I approach it. Each person approaches it the other.
OK, so one of the things that’s interesting is China’s response to Covid. Does that change anything? They’re willing to close down their economy for stretches of time. Look at Shanghai now. How do you look at something like that?
I would say that the sequence of events that led to that was they did not have a Covid problem because of the isolation, but that brought about a problem, that they didn’t create an adequate vaccine, combined with the fact that because nobody got Covid, nobody really wanted to get vaccinated. And so you have a largely unvaccinated population. And then you have Omicron come in. And now, they’re dealing with that particular dilemma. How they choose to trade off, let’s say, the death rates of older people is a question that we all wrestle with.
My understanding of that dilemma is that they have a vaccine that has been produced, but that there’s not a plan as of yet. They have to manufacture it a lot and they have to get it out. And that is probably at least a six-month problem. And so, they’ve got a big problem.
Right, OK. So you’ve said that wealth inequality is a problem here in the US. I would completely agree with you. You’ve said that the U.S. could learn a thing or two from China’s attempts to redistribute wealth. Talk a little bit about that. How do you — because if this is a country —
No — no, I said — what I said was, in reaction to a question of their common prosperity, I said, the United States can use a lot more common prosperity. I’m not saying, follow their approach to common prosperity, OK? I believe that common prosperity is essential for making the system work the best, because it draws on the largest number of people. It is a fair system, OK. And if you don’t have it, you’re much more exposed to a revolution. So I think that one of the problems of our system is that it’s not dealing with, let’s call it, broad-based prosperity.
Right. I always say to wealthy people, I said, you’re either going to fix the system of inequality or you’re going to armor plate your Tesla. You pick which one you’d rather do. The first one is much easier, although I suspect they don’t mind doing the second. So when you think about a country like China — I just want to finish up with China — do you see China as the true entrepreneurial powerhouse in the world today or is it the U.S.?
I think it’s going to be a competitive — I think both will be entrepreneurial, OK. They have all the data. They have AI they are putting in there. So, it’s going to be a place where a lot of that’s going to happen. I expect the United States will be a place where a lot of that happens.
OK, so I want to talk about the economic situation here in the U.S. We’re seeing a generational divide around work. You talk about how wealth creates a disincentive to work in your book. Obviously, now we’re seeing a shift in work, with Millennials and Gen Z workers wanting more flexibility or guardrails on their work. How do you see that impacting America’s competitiveness?
I think, you don’t — it’s a lifestyle thing. What do I define success as? I think we put too much on being number one. In doing my book, I found what are the biggest empires and how did they rise and fall. They all put being rich and powerful as the number one objective. If I measure what are the happiest places, there’s very little correlation between that. But I want to answer your question.
On that competitiveness, it’s basic. Do you earn more than you spend, because you educate your people well? Do you behave well with each other? In other words, are you by and large in a competitive environment, but rowing in the same direction, so that you’re productive and that it’s broad-based prosperity? That is the definition of being strong. That’s competitiveness. And so, it’s very easy to measure. We should have metrics.
And you think health equals competitiveness now.
Right, health equals competitiveness. But I did want to preface it by saying that like life, you don’t have to be, quote, “the most powerful” to also be healthy.
We’ll be back in a minute.
If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Bill Gates, and you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Ray Dalio after the break.
So I wanted to get your take on inflation we’re currently seeing. I recently had Paul Krugman on, and he said, the Fed should raise interest rates, effectively taking its foot off the gas pedal and maybe pumping the brakes a little bit. But he said, otherwise inflation isn’t a big deal, as everyone is making it out. Now, you don’t seem to agree.
Right, that’s wrong. I mean, first, look, the Federal Reserve is a very difficult job. Because, as I say, debt is the stimulative. You give a lot of money, and you give a lot of buying power to people, and you create a pickup. And that’s what we did. They kept it on for a very long time and they massively stimulated. And now they’re going to have to put on the brakes.
Will they raise interest rates to a high enough level to compensate for inflation? And when central banks tighten, they create the pinch. And I think that everybody knows — you can see what happens to tech stocks. You can see what happens to other things.
So, you are saying this might cause a recession, is that what you’re saying?
Right, that that tradeoff, between inflation and growth, has produced a lot more inflation and a lot less growth. So as the Federal Reserve tries to balance that, and try to get in the middle, it gets a stagflation in the middle of two difficult situations.
So how do you think — you used the word stagflation — one of my favorite words — how do you think the current economic environment, fear of stagflation, and the actual occurrence of stagflation will play out in the midterm elections?
I think it’s a very big issue. And it will play out in hurting the Democrats, because they’ll be perceived as being responsible for it. And it’ll be slogans. And there’s going to be very little understanding of the tradeoffs and the mechanics. So we will have gone from complaining about the depression that existed as a result of Covid to complaining about the inflation, but not realizing that the two things go together, because when you give a lot of money away, and you minimize the first problem, but you get the second.
Right, exactly. So former Bridgewater C.E.O., your successor, David McCormick, is running in the Republican primary, speaking of slogans, for the Pennsylvania Senate, against Dr. Oz. What do you think of his campaign? Because he’s like dabbling in populism, someone I never expected to, but there he is.
I don’t want — I can’t speak for him. You should speak to him for that.
I know, but I’m speaking to you.
I’m not much — well, I’m speaking to you too.
And I’m saying that David’s choices, and how he’s doing, and all of that could be best spoken to by him. I’m not — I would almost view it as being gossiper in terms of the choices he made. I don’t even know enough about the circumstances. So it’s — you speak to him about that.
Well, I shall speak to him. I’m just pointing out, because at the beginning of this conversation, you talked about people dabbling in populism and partisanship. This is the kind of person you’d want to be in the center, correct? Like, this is the kind of reasonable center person, is not allowed to in the situation we have here, what we’ve got politically.
I think that — I know both of these men and I think they’re good people. And that they are in a political environment. And that becomes a challenging type of thing, that we are not in an environment — and also, the media contributes to this. Because candidates cannot thoughtfully disagree and lay out their visions for America and then have people who are thoughtful and respond to those visions.
Instead, we’re in a population in which both sides say, are you going to fight for me? I don’t want a compromiser. I don’t want anything like that. And so they’re operating in that kind of a political environment. It’s certainly the case that the environment is like that.
Right, OK. So on the other side of the political spectrum are progressives, who are certainly gaining steam nationally in a different way. Do you think Elizabeth Warren’s billionaire tax is just a way to redistribute wealth, when you’re talking about this common prosperity?
I think that the demonization of any part of the population, rich or poor, and creating hatred and animosity to whatever extent it is done by any person, undermines the well-being of this country, OK. But I believe that it is almost criminal, and certainly tragic, that the conditions in the lower part of the population, in terms of the things we’ve been talking about, education, living conditions, the not creating a bottom, I think that that’s counterproductive and that a smart redistribution of resources that makes this a much more common prosperity, is something that’s required.
Now, it has to be done where you increase the size of the pie and divide it well. And I think that those on the right overemphasize increasing the size of the pie and don’t pay enough attention on how to divide it well. And those on the left pay more attention to dividing it well than thinking about how to increase the size of the pie.
If you’re going to have prosperity, you’re going to need to have productivity that is well shared and equal opportunity. So there are sympathies that I have for that view, but you have to make sure that the system works in a smart way, that produces those things, and let’s not try to demonize each other.
Right, but at some point, talking about tax reform is about — not demonizing, but saying, these people aren’t paying enough. We have to redistribute the way we collect taxes.
No problem that, but when we say that these people are evil, or they’re trying to gouge, or — let’s look at the other side of the entrepreneur. You almost can’t come up with a good idea that the world buys into and not end up making a lot of money, because the world will rush and buy the products, and that’s what had happened. In my case, it happened by pretty much an accident. And in many cases, it does. And so, there should be appreciation for the contributions of all people, I think, in their various ways.
And then the system — I go back to the government system, the system should make sure that there’s broad-based prosperity. So I think that what should happen is that we have these clear metrics of well being, OK. And that we watch those things and do those things to engineer how we can both raise productivity and raise per capita income. And there are a lot of things that we can do in order to do that. That’s what I wish for, rather than we are in a class warfare, in which one side is going to defeat the other side. OK, that’s not a good thing.
Right, but would you acknowledge the way they’re using the tax system — and believe me, I had this argument with Elizabeth Warren. I’m like, then change the tax system if you don’t like it, that’s all.
They’re just availing themselves to the system that exists and then you can change the laws.
I’m with you. And so you’re asking me two questions, OK. The question of how do you make the system work, I think we’re in agreement on that. I’m making a different point, which is this one side defeating, and hurting, and demonizing the other side, from either side, is something that is very dangerous and very — very inappropriate to whatever extent anyone does that.
So do you see a possibility of that, where we change the idea of what income is? Or one of the issues is, like, they don’t make income. They make other things. They make stock gains and then they borrow against it and things like that. It does seem inequitable for some people to be able to do that and others to have to work for a salary.
I think a wealth tax is a very difficult thing to implement. And I think it causes a lot of problems, just as a practicality. And inheritance tax is — which makes it less often, is a different question. If I was, again, president of the United States, besides having a bipartisan cabinet, what I would do is I would take the smartest people from both sides and I’d send them into a — the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to engineer modifications to the system, that would increase productivity and create broader based prosperity, OK.
I would want to work to that middle and say — and almost whatever they decided I’d be happy with. It may not be what I would do, but it would be something that would be reasonable, bipartisan, and probably, if they thought it through with smart people, it would work. But that’s the issue of compromise and coming together to a common solution.
Sure, OK, so that’s a dreamy vision. But very last question, are you hopeful or hopeless? What is your perspective, right now, at this moment in time, for our world and country?
I’m more worried on just a practical — it all depends how we are with each other, but I’m not optimistic we’re going to be good with each other. I saw, when I studied history, that acts of nature have had even a bigger effect. And that means droughts, floods, pandemics have toppled more empires and caused more deaths. And that’s something that concerns me as well.
And then I saw man’s capacity to adapt and invent is definitely the greatest force that exists. And I think that that’s a bright spot. That when I look at the way vaccines were developed and the way that there’s the adaptation, where you couldn’t get out of your house, but you could work, and you could have a life standard, and so on. So I think we’re going to have revolutionary changes, probably generally for the better. There are risks associated with those.
There’s interconnectivity, for example, and there are cyber risks. And there are other things that exist that could make those things dangerous as well as good. But pretty much, when I look at history, the funny thing about it is, it looks to me like the only things that change over periods of time is the clothes people wear and the technologies they use.
That pretty much, through history, you see these cycles, and they’re human nature cycles and whatever. And then you see this rise in living standards, which is reflected in life expectancy. I bet our life expectancies will be much greater in 20 years and our well-being will be. But it’s in those interim periods and how we deal with each other that is the source of concern for me.
All right, so you’re hopelessly hopeful or hopefully hopeless, something like that.
I’ll let you characterize it.
OK. Ray, thank you so much.
Thank you, Kara.
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