By Chris Becker. Originally published at MacroBusiness
It’s always interesting to hear mega-capitalists complain about the very system that provides them opportunity to turn their talents into Scrooge McDuck size piles of cash. Furthermore, it’s usually the most successful that have the most liberal of views and Ray Dalio, head of hedge fund Bridgewater, has weighed in again.
“Capitalism basically is not working for the majority of people. That’s just the reality,” Dalio said at the 2018 Summit conference in Los Angelesin November. Monday, Dalio tweeted a video of his Summit talk.“Today, the top one-tenth of 1 percent of the population’s net worth is equal to the bottom 90 percent combined. In other words, a big giant wealth gap. That was the same — last time that happened was the late ’30s,” Dalio said. (Indeed, research from Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the National Bureau of Economic Research of wealth inequality throughout the 20th century, covered by The Guardian, bears this out.)
Further, Dalio points to a survey by the Federal Reserve showing that 40 percent of adults can’t come up with $400 in the case of an emergency. “It gives you an idea of what the polarity is,” Dalio said. “That’s a real world. That’s an issue.”
“We’re in a situation when the economy is at a peak, we still have this very big tension. That’s where we are today,” he said in November. “We’re in a situation where, if you have a downturn, and we will have a downturn, I believe that — I worry that that polarity will become greater.”
Here’s the full talk:
There is no actual problem with capitalism in and of itself. As a system, compared to other systems in the past, it has provided the greatest gains to the greatest number of people in the last two centuries of human development. To borrow a catchphrase, it’s settled science, and in fact maybe one of the only theories of economics that actually holds water, given that communism, socialism and other market structures have failed time and time again.
The problem with capitalism is when it is wedded to an ideology that has limited or perverted checks and balances. Inequality being the most dire and neglected outcome of perverting a system that does not punish the risk takers who fail. Witness the banking industry in the aftermath of the GFC. A properly tuned capitalistic system would have seen the majority of bankers incarcerated, there wealth confiscated by legal and just reparations and an overhaul of the financial sector.
Captured regulatory authorities and legislative assemblies overturned the fundamental cornerstone of capitalism – if you fail, you take a loss – and turned it into an even more perverse form of socialism where the losers become winners and society bears the entire burden of their mistakes.
Dalio, like Buffet and Gates before him are pointing out the problems of extreme wealth, but this is not a new phenomenon. History shows that when income and wealth inequality become widely disparate, the forces of populism rise to shake the foundations. And inequality in the US and in the Western world is again reaching those heady heights where “unbridled” (read:captured) capitalism resulted in the Great Depression:
The concentration of wealth by capturing the full yield of capitalism without distributing any seeds is worse than ever as The Economist explains:
The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record. Those down the distribution have not done quite so well: the top 0.1% (consisting of 160,000 families worth $73m on average) hold 22% of America’s wealth, just shy of the 1929 peak—and exactly the same share as the bottom 90% of the population.
Dalio is right to point out that an unworkable capitalist system, where the majority of the gains are kept by the few, creating an oligarchy that is inflexible to change, or risk, has not benefited the majority.
Lost in the amazing advances in the developing world which has embraced versions of capitalism over the last thirty years is that the average Westerner has gone nowhere in terms of wage growth and real wealth:
Similar forces have been in play in Australia:
Creating these instabilities, where it’s extremely hard for someone to rise above the average wage, let alone no wage, is going to cost the whole system eventually if it is not reformed and brought back to the center where it belongs.