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Billionaire investor Ray Dalio: Capitalism run amok is "economically stupid"

Billionaire on failures of capitalism

Billionaire investor Ray Dalio has a message for America: Capitalism isn't working for most people and is in dire need of reform. 

Dalio, in a lengthy LinkedIn post, criticizes the growing wealth and income disparities between the richest Americans and the bottom 60 percent, which he says is weakening the U.S. economically and leading to internal conflicts as well as a loss of status on the global stage.

"I have also seen capitalism evolve in a way that it is not working well for the majority of Americans because it's producing self-reinforcing spirals up for the haves and down for the have-nots," Dalio wrote. "This is creating widening income/wealth/opportunity gaps that pose existential threats to the United States because these gaps are bringing about damaging domestic and international conflicts and weakening America's condition."

Dalio, the founder of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, is worth $16.9 billion, placing him 66th on Bloomberg's Billionaire Index. While it might be a bit rich that a multi-billionaire is lecturing about income inequality, the 69-year-old writes that he grew up in a middle-class family and went to public schools. 

He joins a chorus of Wall Street types who are signaling a warning bell about the consequences of widening economic disparities, including JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who on Thursday warned in his annual shareholder letter that the American dream is "fraying for many." And famed investor Warren Buffett recently warned capitalists not to forget the social and economic needs of the human "roadkill" that free markets can leave behind -- "people who've become roadkill because of something beyond their control," he told CNBC. "I think that's the obligation of a rich country

Dalio, for his part, wrote on Friday: "I was raised with the belief that having equal opportunity to have basic care, good education, and employment is what is fair and best for our collective well-being. To have these things and use them to build a great life is what was meant by living the American Dream."

But, he says, that dream has curdled for many Americans, especially those in the bottom of the income distribution. 

"No real income growth"

In his piece, Dalio singles out trends that economists such as Thomas Piketty and Harvard University's Raj Chetty have highlighted, with some calling today's economy an echo of the "gilded age" of the early 20th century, when robber barons and industrial titans controlled much of the country's wealth. 

"Prime-age workers in the bottom 60 percent have had no real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) income growth since 1980," Dalio wrote. "That was at a time when incomes for the top 10 percent have doubled and those of the top 1 percent have tripled."

Investor and "Principles" author Ray Dalio on economy, business success

Only half of children grow up to earn more than their parents did, compared with 90 percent in 1970, he added. As that suggests, climbing the socioeconomic ladder is no longer a possibility for many Americans, with poor citizens now among the least economically mobile in the developed world, he added.

As a result, almost 1 in 5 American children are "poor, malnourished (physically and mentally), and poorly educated," Dalio said. "Leaving so many children in poverty and not educating them well is the equivalent of child abuse, and it is economically stupid."

"Conflicts"

The growing gap between rich and poor is leading to increasing conflicts between liberals and conservatives, Dalio noted. 

"The ideological polarity is greater than it has ever been and the willingness to compromise is less than it's ever been," he wrote. He predicted the 2020 presidential election will be "a hell of a battle."

His conclusion: Capitalism needs to be reformed, although Dalio didn't include specific recommendations for how to accomplish that goal -- he said he'll outline his ideas in forthcoming piece. 

It seems clear Dalio won't be recommending socialism as a cure-all, however: "The problem," he wrote, "is that capitalists typically don't know how to divide the pie well and socialists typically don't know how to grow it well."