After last week’s excellent interview with Charlie Rose, Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, follows up with a great piece in today’s Financial Times,
“Risk on the rise as political leaders give in to mob rule.”
We are in the midst of a deleveraging, we are nearly out of ammunition and we are at each other’s throats. Being in a deleveraging and nearly out of ammunition is a very difficult position to be in. But, being at each other’s throats is our biggest problem.
Nails it. So true. Mr. Dalio then issues this warning,
Our character and our political and social systems are now being tested in ways that have typically been tested in past deleveragings. In deleveragings bad economic conditions typically lead to emotional reactions, social and political fragmentation, poor decision-making and increased conflict. When this occurs in democracies, the checks and balance system, which is intended to yield the best decisions for the whole, can stand in the way of thoughtful leadership and lead to ineffective “mob” rule. This dynamic can lead to a self-reinforcing downward spiral.
Frustrations increase, the established ways of doing things come under attack and frustrations over the ineffectiveness of government creates the perceived need for someone to gain control of the mess. Plato spoke of this dynamic. It was the reason Hitler was elected in 1933.
Hitler? Heavy stuff. Last week we conveyed our same concerns and fears,
We must admit our fear and squeamishness when we see large emotional groups scapegoating a small minority for all that is wrong with the world. It’s just a small step to attribute the evils of the “1 percent” to ethnicity, religion, or whatever.
Mr. Dalio also has a lot to say in the article about the risks to economic policy.
This growing populism will have important implications for monetary, fiscal and trade policies and will significantly increase risks of a markets downturn and a global depression.
Regarding monetary policy, the mob is at the gates of the Federal Reserve and wants to grab control while those on the inside are in disagreement about what should be done. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and those who helped him save the country from depression are now under siege. These challenges are being faced in different forms by most central banks at the same time as they are nearly out of ammunition – i.e., their capacities to ease are very limited because they cannot stimulate private credit creation and because they cannot get money in the hands of people who will spend it. For these reasons there is greater risk that central banks cannot save us as they have always saved us in the past.
The battle between the left that wants to tax the rich more and the right that wants to cut entitlement spending is at a fierce stalemate that is likely to intensify in more scary ways. As a result, fiscal policy is unlikely to be supportive to economic growth.