Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio raised eyebrows this past weekend. As head of the world’s largest hedge fund, Dalio is estimated to have a net worth of $18.4 billion, according to Forbes. And yet the billionaire declared on both “60 Minutes” and LinkedIn that current levels of inequality are “a national emergency,” adding that “the American dream is lost.”
Someone whose ears perk up whenever a billionaire starts talking about the state of the country is Anand Giridharadas, an editor-at-large for Time and the author of “Winners Take All.” He’s emerged as one of the most prominent critics of America’s elite class since his book was published last August, and in January he told Business Insider that “we’re all passengers in a billionaire hijacking” of the United States.
On Monday, Giridharadas said that Dalio can join the discussion of inequality, but would need to “become a traitor to his class” if he wants to see real change. Core to Giridharadas’ argument for where the US should be heading is that America has become too reliant on elites (even those with the best intentions) to solve structural problems. Giridharadas sent Business Insider the following:
“What Ray Dalio needs to understand, which members of his class so often struggle to understand, is that the reason his class has too much money is because it also has too much power. Power in Washington. Power in an under-taxed, under-regulated economy. Power exerted through big philanthropy. Power lubricated by a cultural narrative that deifies wealth and marginalizes democratic solutions. Power to have his musings on inequality be aired on ’60 Minutes’ just because this fox suddenly has thoughts on hen protection, even though others who have been doing the work of narrowing the divides for decades would never get that kind of platform.”
In his “60 Minutes” interview, Dalio said that “of course” the wealthy need to be taxed more, and that the concept of lowering taxes on the rich to increase productivity “doesn’t make any sense to me at all.” He also noted that the only way inequality of wealth, income, and opportunity can be changed on a meaningful level is through political leadership.
Ahead of the “60 Minutes” interview, Dalio announced he and his wife were making a $100 million donation to underserved Connecticut public schools. Giridharadas had thoughts on that, as well:
“It is fine to donate money to Connecticut. But Dalio’s personal preferences should have zero influence on how the money is spent. This is the problem with the public-private-partnership model he venerates: It puts some rich guy and the State of Connecticut on an equal footing to negotiate a plan to enhance the general welfare. Why? You wouldn’t ask an arsonist to lead the firefighting brigade, and you shouldn’t ask those who have benefited most from a rigged system, and who have the most to lose from genuine reform, to lead the reformation of the system.”
Giridharadas said that for all people in positions of power, whether as individual philanthropists or as leaders of corporations, the caveat to doing good must also be reducing harm done.
In his book “Winners Take All,” he argues that when we are looking toward corporations and the rich to fix society, our system has failed and needs policy changes rather than philanthropic Band-Aids or “conscious capitalism.”
And over the past few months, Giridharadas has been much harder on Starbucks’ billionaire former CEO Howard Schultz, who has been flirting with the idea of running for president as a centrist Democrat. Unlike Dalio, Schultz has dismissed the idea of significantly raising taxes on the wealthy. As for the elites who are unwilling to make some drastic changes to the American economy, “these guys are, honestly, asking, begging, to be overthrown and they need to wake up to the moment they’re in,” Giridharadas said in January, after talking about Schultz and fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
That’s actually a point Dalio agrees with Giridharadas on, that if capitalism remains unreformed in America for much longer, there will be some form of revolt.
When asked whether it’s necessary to have billionaires who call for similar fixes to society, even as he desires for the extent of their power to diminish, Giridharadas said that he is willing to have a dialogue with Dalio or any other powerful person who recognizes the need for change. For Giridharadas, the key word is “dialogue,” where a billionaire is willing to step back and “live as one in a sea of equals, their voice no more or no less important than anyone’s.”