The United States needs some radical transparency. What’s that, you ask? Well, at Bridgewater Associates, the hedge fund founded by billionaire Ray Dalio, it’s the term for direct and constant comment of staff. The idea is that anyone can give anyone else their opinion on their initiatives, interactions and off-the-cuff-comments. Workers rate one another throughout the day, a system of nonstop feedback. According to Dalio, “it forces issues to the surface.”
And now Dalio has some feedback for society. In a 5,000-plus-word treatise posted on LinkedIn last week titled “Why and How Capitalism Needs to be Reformed (Part 1)”, Dalio discussed how our current economic system, and rampant income and wealth inequality, is failing, leaving a majority of the population with limited opportunities for educational or income advancement. If that’s not addressed, he said, “we will have great conflict and some form of revolution that will hurt most everyone and will shrink the pie.” It’s a “national emergency,” he told “60 Minutes.” “The American dream is lost.”
His radical solutions?
- Leadership that acknowledges the scope of the problem
- A bipartisan commission that will “bring together skilled people from different communities to come up with a plan to reengineer the system to simultaneously divide and increase the economic pie better.”
- A $100 million donation from Dalio and his wife, Barbara, to Connecticut public schools via their family charitable foundation, Dalio Philanthropies. Dalio has also said in the past he plans to leave at least half of his $18 billion fortune to charity.
Talk about game changers!
Dalio is clearly looking to separate himself from other plutocrats who are refusing to take blame for the country’s current economic and political state. Take JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon, who also released a treatise last week, in the form of his annual letter to shareholders. “I am not an advocate for unregulated, unvarnished free-for-all capitalism,” he assured readers before going on to attack what he calls socialism. “When governments control companies, economic assets (companies, lenders and so on) over time are used to further political interests — leading to inefficient companies and markets, enormous favoritism and corruption,” he wrote.
Actually, what Dimon describes sounds like our current system, which features corporate concentration, legalized political corruption via political donations, and scandals galore, like the parents who paid monster bribes so their children would be admitted to elite colleges.
Then there is Howard Schultz, the man who apparently believes that convincing Americans to spend more on a cup of coffee is a qualification for serving as president of the United States. He says the problem is “a lack of leadership” demonstrated by members of both the Democratic and Republican parties who won’t work together to solve our woes. Last week, MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi filleted Schulz in a little more than 10 minutes, showing him as a man unable to do more than parrot a few simple talking points. No doubt he thinks that if it worked for Donald Trump, it could work for him.
It’s all a bit much. Who is going to select the members of the bipartisan commission Dalio thinks can restore mass prosperity to the American people? How does Schultz think the cooperation of the Democratic and Republican parties will restore America to prosperity? So what if all three of these men now agree the wealthy need to pay more in taxes (thought the cynic in me needs to point out they never say how much)? Even as they claim to want change, they still promote one of the most troublesome and devastating premises of the second gilded age, the one that says business titans and hotshot CEOs such as themselves are the best and the brightest of our time, possessing some unique wisdom into how the world works because of their outsize success.
But none of these men possess any particular political smarts. Barely two years ago, Dalio was claiming that Trump’s election to the presidency would “shift the environment from one that makes profit makers villains with limited power to one that makes them heroes with significant power," not to mention offer “a uniquely attractive environment for those who make money and/or have money.” Schultz calls Medicare-for-all “not American” and rants about Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in a way that sometimes sounds almost unhinged. As for Dimon, as Robert Reich observed, he does believe in socialism — for himself. Remember when he received about $20 million in annual compensation in 2008, the same year his bank accepted $25 billion in bailout money from the federal government?
Dalio, Dimon and Schultz are united by their desire to maintain their wealth and power, even as it’s increasingly obvious the system that earned them all that is breaking down. As a result, they are attempting to reposition themselves as iconoclastic political thinkers and leaders, not defenders of an increasingly unacceptable status quo. So here’s some radical transparency: The biggest beneficiaries of our record-breaking age of inequality are not the people who are going to end it. Let’s stop pretending otherwise.