Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, estimated by some to be now the world’s largest hedge fund, believes that the momentum of modern-day populism is such that it is presently in the process of replacing “classic monetary and fiscal policies” as the paradigm by which economic conditions, and prospective changes thereto, are evaluated.
In a post written for LinkedIn, one that has gained media traction very quickly, including over at MarketWatch, Dalio details both the history of populism, as well as the trend toward populism again throughout much of the developed world. In defining the characteristics of populism, Dalio writes:
“Populism is a political and social phenomenon that arises from the common man, typically not well- educated, being fed up with 1) wealth and opportunity gaps, 2) perceived cultural threats from those with different values in the country and from outsiders, 3) the ‘establishment elites’ in positions of power, and 4) government not working effectively for them. These sentiments lead that constituency to put strong leaders in power. Populist leaders are typically confrontational rather than collaborative and exclusive rather than inclusive. As a result, conflicts typically occur between opposing factions (usually the economic and socially left versus the right), both within the country and between countries. These conflicts typically become progressively more forceful in self-reinforcing ways.”
As for Donald Trump, specifically, Dalio admits to being a little suspicious about just how deeply-rooted his populist inclinations are, saying, “We have more questions than answers about him and are using these other cases to assess him against by seeing if he follows a more archetypical path or if he deviates from it significantly.”
The matter of Trump’s commitment to populism aside, it is easy to understand why a wealthy hedge fund manager would be unhappy with populism as a determinant of economic policy, and that populism will serve to be the overriding global economic force, going forward, is the clear impression with which readers of this piece (and, particularly, the unabridged version from which the LinkedIn article was written) are left. As for the definitional characteristics of populism outlined by Dalio, it is, honestly, difficult to disagree with any of them, even as painful as it might be for adherents of populism to read feature descriptions of themselves like “not well-educated.” That said, there are lots of populists out there who “get it,” including many who are very well-educated.
In other words, those who can clearly discern Dalio’s other bases for the rise of populism, like “wealth and opportunity gaps,” “cultural threats (which are not always merely “perceived,” as Dalio would have us believe), the lopsided influence that “establishment elites” have over regular folks, and ineffective government, are correctly and accurately doing so throughout much of the Western world today, which means that these dumb rubes are seeing things as they are not by virtue of the ignorance of which Dalio and his ilk think they’re possessed, but in spite of it.
Ultimately, anyone with a truly objective worldview, and a little common sense, is capable of embracing self-evident truths, without regard to how much, or how little, book-learnin’ they have. A global populist movement threatens the system by which acutely-exploitative people like Dalio have been able to grossly benefit, and they clearly don’t like it. Their displeasure is understandable, but, finally, of no concern to those who’ve had enough.
By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large