OP-ED | Ray Dalio Wakes to Smell the Coffee: When Algorithms Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Ray Dalio, chairman and chief investment officer of Westport hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, appears to have belatedly woken up and smelled the coffee — expressing concern about President Trump’s propensity to seek conflict rather than cooperation.
This marks a change from a month after the election, when Dalio appeared encouraged by aspects of the Trump presidency:
“This new administration hates weak, unproductive, socialist people and policies, and it admires strong, can-do, profit makers. It wants to, and probably will, shift the environment from one that makes profit makers villains with limited power to one that makes them heroes with significant power … there’s a good chance that the ‘craziness’ factor will be smaller and play a lesser role in driving outcomes than many had feared. In fact, it is possible that we might have very capable policy makers of the previously mentioned ideological persuasion in control.”
In other words, good news for the Ayn Rand fanboys. There’s finally someone in the Oval Office who appreciates you Masters of the Universe and will give you the worship and tax cuts you believe are your rightful due.
In a note published Monday of this week, however, Mr. Dalio expressed concern:
Naturally, my inclinations are to view Donald Trump’s policies through the lens of one who thinks about economies and markets, as well as from my vantage point of being a global and US citizen ... My inclinations are to view things in a mechanistic way and to try to express the cause-effect relationships in principles and algorithms. While most cause-effect relationships can be expressed that way, not all can. Human nature is one that is difficult to express this way, and it is uniquely important now in Donald Trump’s presidency ... I am especially concerned about the consequences of his pursuing so much conflict. At the same time, I see some encouraging moves on his part (e.g., to pursue public-private partnerships to rebuild infrastructure).
“In our study, “Populism: The Phenomenon,” I highlighted that the most important thing to watch in the early days of a populist government is how conflict is handled. The more I see Donald Trump moving toward conflict rather than cooperation, the more I worry about him harming his presidency and its effects on most of us.”
Perhaps it’s possible to “view things in a mechanistic way and to try to express the cause-effect relationships in principles and algorithms” from inside the gated security of his Belle Haven home, or from his offices (recently expanded with generous low interest loans from Connecticut taxpayers like you and me, people who pay much higher effective tax rates than he does thanks to the hedge fund loophole).
But for those of us in less rarefied climes — who were being tweeted a picture of a concentration camp with the message “kike lives matter” while being added to lists of “oven dodgers” by Trump supporters during the election — it’s a bit enraging that Mr. Dalio is only now waking up to the fact that President Trump is a man driven by conflict and chaos.
In his note, Mr. Dalio writes: “I have to confess a personal bias that is opposite his — i.e., I’m inclined to optimize for the whole through cooperation in order to make the pie bigger, and then cooperatively and competitively divide up the pie. I believe that we are connected to our whole ecology, our whole world community, and our whole United States, such that it pays to be in symbiotic relationships with them — so, I’m concerned about his path.”
If Mr. Dalio indeed lives by this ethos, one has to ask, do his principles and algorithms take into account things like the increases in anti-Semitism or Islamophobia or the very public White Supremacist fervor that Trump’s candidacy and presidency has stirred up across our nation? Or do minority groups not figure into those calculations of cooperation? How do continual attacks on a free press “optimize for the whole through cooperation?”
Do those algorithms take into account the fact that children across the country are being subjected to racist bullying thanks to rhetoric spouted by this President? Even before the election, at a youth literature conference in Chicago, middle and high school teachers and librarians were telling me about the negative “Trump effect” in their schools. I know that Mr. Dalio has an interest in improving education. How does he think this kind abuse on a daily basis impacts kids’ ability to learn? If kids aren’t learning, how will that effect our long-term economic competitiveness and productivity?
Do those algorithms take that into account? Does Mr. Dalio genuinely care about it, or despite the laudable sentiment about “optimizing for the whole,” is education just a side issue easily sacrificed in favor of more tax cuts, short-term profits, and bonuses?
There is ample evidence that children need to be healthy in order to learn. How will Trumpcare’s gutting of protections for people with pre-existing conditions, the poor, and women help keep kids healthy enough to learn?
To that point, the behind-closed-doors machinations of the Republican Party would appear to break every single one of the six major promises Trump made to his supporters on Obamacare replacement: no cuts to Medicaid, insurance for everyone, no one will be worse off financially, no one will lose coverage, we’ll get rid of artificial lines, and everyone is going to be taken care of.
What about ensuring funding and civil rights for kids with disabilities no matter what school they attend? The testimony Tuesday of Trump’s disgracefully incapable Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, should be a concern to any thinking American who cares about the future of our children.
When I read about Mr. Dalio’s enlightenment this week in the Greenwich Time, I sent an irate email to a friend who knows about the anti-Semitism and misogyny I’ve experienced over the last two years: “NOW he’s worried about Trump creating conflict?”
“Well, the Greenwich Town Party is nice,” my friend said, half joking. Dalio is the originator of the town party and is a major sponsor.
I was reminded of Juvenal’s Satire X and panem et circenses: “The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things — Bread and Circuses!”
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and as such is an AAUP member), and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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