April 28, 2020

Ray Dalio: Predicting Our Future Using Our Past

Ray Dalio, billionaire philanthropist and hedge fund demigod, thinks we can utilize historical precedent to insulate ourselves from the inevitable pain points life throws at us. Do you?

Ray Dalio, billionaire philanthropist and hedge fund demigod, thinks we can utilize historical precedent to insulate ourselves from the inevitable pain points life throws at us. Do you?

Part I of our two-part interview with Dalio will help you make a decision. 

In this episode of Business Casual, Ray makes a case for becoming a voracious student of history. And yes, Ray thinks we could have seen today’s global health and economic crisis coming—he even goes as far in the episode as to divulge what he would have done differently if he’d paid a little more attention to the history books. 

Because as far as he sees it, there is such a thing as a formula for success. He shared that formula, plus tips for…

  • Learning how to make decisions even when armed with imperfect information at best
  • Positioning yourself to take advantage of your weaknesses as much as you do your strengths
  • Understanding what the role of the billionaire class should be in times of global panic

Listen to the episode now. And make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss Part II of the interview, up next from Business Casual.


Kinsey Grant, Morning Brew business editor and podcast host [00:00:06] Hey, everybody, and welcome to Business Casual, the podcast for Morning Brew, answering your biggest questions in business. I'm your host and Brew business editor, Kinsey Grant. And now, let's get into it. 


Kinsey [00:00:17] I've never applied for a job at the world's largest hedge fund, but if I did, they'd probably put me through a somewhat rigorous personality test, one that might make me question many of the decisions I've made. But, now, I might not work at that hedge fund. I do know [laughs] that I can use Google to my best advantage, and that helped me find out that I'm more of a creator than an executor. But I'm interested, Ray Dalio, what are you? 


Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates [00:00:41] Well, there are lots of ways [Kinsey laughs] to describe a person, but I am an, in Myers-Briggs term, and ENTP creator. 


Kinsey [00:00:52] OK. An ENTP creator. So if you didn't get from the [laughs] context clues, I am speaking with Ray Dalio, the hedge fund manager, philanthropist, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund. Ray, thank you so much for coming on Business Casual. I am very, very excited to speak with you. You are someone whose reputation precedes you in our world here of business news. I'm grateful that you took the time. 


Ray [00:01:15] Well, thank you. I'm just a normal person trying to do something. And I'm looking forward to this conversation because, you know, I'm 70 years old and I've reflected on all of the things. And to be able to reflect with you and with others is a real treat for me. So thank you. 


Kinsey [00:01:31] I always find that the most special people always say they're the most normal people. So we'll let it slide. But let's talk a little bit more about these personality traits we were alluding to when I when I first hopped on the mike here. Explain to me more what your personality trait is, why you think that these are important things to know about people before bringing them on as employees? 


Ray [00:01:50] Well, I'll start with why they're important things to know about people. How we think, how we're wired, what our preferences are, are deeply imbued in us. So we have to know about ourselves. And we have to know about others too, so that we know how to deal with each other, because we can value different things and just not understand it. And so that's why it's just so important to know what our preferences are and our inclinations are and what others are to have that quality communication. 


Kinsey [00:02:25] Right. 


Ray [00:02:26] And for every trait in nature, there's a purpose. So I might be one thing and you might be something else. And it's not that one is better or worse than the other. It's in fact that they need each other, because in order for me to have something that is good where I am, like I'm a bit more bigger picture creative thinker, you know, and I can get into what I'm like. In order for me to be successful, I really need to work with other people who are strong where I'm weak. So in my particular case, I gave a few terms, but you know, there are probably something like 25 terms or so on that can describe most people. 


Ray [00:03:13] I won't get into all of those [Kinsey laughs], but you gave the example of a couple. In other words, a creator. There's a test called Team Dimensions and whatever, and it ranks certain people, and there's another test, which is Myers-Briggs, or other versions of that, the golden test and so on. And they bring out different questions. And to know those things is so valuable to understanding each other and working things out. 


Kinsey [00:03:44] It's so interesting that you can boil down the personality, or at least some part of someone's personality, into these buckets that are very useful. And I think that knowing yourself and knowing how you make decisions and how that impacts the way you work in a team is incredibly important for success, both interpersonal success and business success. But, this idea of knowing yourself is one of the reasons that you have become so well-known that you've earned this magnificent reputation, especially among young business leaders and business leader hopefuls as well. Another big reason is that you wrote about it. [laughs] Your principals —


Ray [00:04:17] And I'm gonna do something else. 


Kinsey [00:04:19] Yes. 


Ray [00:04:19] I've put together a combined test that I'm going to—it's not like a test like right or wrong answers. It's just knowing yourself. But that I'm going to make to everybody available free —. 


Kinsey [00:04:34] Wow. 


Ray [00:04:34] So that they can — 


Kinsey [00:04:38] Know themselves as well. 


Ray [00:04:39] Know themselves and know others if they choose to. Because it's so valuable. 


Kinsey [00:04:42] Right, it is valuable. And I would argue it is one of your principles that you've written about and espoused at length—that these are important things to know about yourself. You have to understand the way you interact with other people. But when we talk about the first time that this came to prominence, I know that you'd written about principles—the book and the theory that you have for several years now. But it was first published in book form several years ago, now, at this point, and the world that we're living in today is different from what it was three months ago, let alone three years ago. 


Kinsey [00:05:13] So I want today to understand better how the principles that you have come to understand and value and value for others and teach others have changed or are changing in a very uncharted territory kind of world. We are dealing with both a global health crisis today, a likely recession, maybe even worse. So I'm interested in learning more from you about how the rules of the game are changing, if the rules of the game are changing, and how we can better understand what it takes to move forward. So let's get started talking about all this stuff, shall we? 


Ray [00:05:46] Yeah. So could I comment on that? 


Kinsey [00:05:49] Of course! 


Ray [00:05:49] On that general thing —


Kinsey [00:05:53] Of course! 


Ray [00:05:53] Nothing is new. It just —


Kinsey [00:05:54] Nothing is new. 


Ray [00:05:55] It's everything is another one of those things that has happened in the past and happens repeatedly in somewhat different flavors, and that it happens over and over again. And many of these things have never been things that we've experienced before in our lifetimes. But they've happened over and over again. And any good principles are timeless and universal principles. And when you go back and you stress test that—like this is in theory, this is what I learned through my experiences, like in 1971, I was clerking on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, just got out of college. 


Ray [00:06:42] And for the first time, the United States ran into a debt crisis. And the President, on August 15th, said they're going to default on the promise to give gold. And I looked at the history. I said, there's a crisis. And I walked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange—I thought it would be a crisis. And the exact same thing that Richard Dixon did on August 15th, 1971, was done by Roosevelt on March 5th, 1933. And it had the exact same result. And so things like we're going through happen over and over and over again. And so good principles, you know, they can come from any philosophy or religion or anything. But if they're good, they're timeless and universal. 


Kinsey [00:07:38] So what do you think is the most timeless and universal of your principles? Is there one that you could pick? 


Ray [00:07:43] Well, I can talk about it. Yes, I think that we all evolve [indistinct] So I'm gonna give you more than a line. 


Kinsey [00:07:54] OK. 


Ray [00:07:54] But there is a line. But I'd rather describe it. We're all evolving, and there is reality. And you have to understand how reality works. You can't be attached to how you would wish it would work. You have to understand it like understanding a machine. It just works that way. And then in trying to understand it, you have to understand that what you know is only a small percentage of what there is to know. And that the best thing you can do is triangulate with other people to figure out how it works and to have good principles for dealing with it. 


Ray [00:08:45] That was a long explanation, so let me make it more simple. Reality is reality. You have to deal with it well. You have to have good principles for dealing with it well. They're basically recipes. When I mean recipes, if this thing comes along, what do I do? Rather than do it spontaneously and so on, you have to have in your mind that thing that you go to and you say, ah, when this one comes along, I do that. And so they're like recipes for your particular encounters with reality. 


Ray [00:09:21] So the biggest thing that I would pass along is a saying that I have: Pain plus reflection equals progress. OK? So when you encounter pain—pain is particularly a good learning vehicle because we don't want it. If we're doing things well, then we don't have the pain. But if there's a pain, what does that tell us about how reality works? And what does that tell us about a principle we should have because it works that way so that we get what we want. 


Ray [00:10:01] And if we can pause, maybe not in the moment of pain, but right after that moment of pain, and think, how should I handle that type of situation and then write it down, that's great progress. So those are most important, realizing everything has happened, just in a slightly different flavor. 


Kinsey [00:10:22] You're right. History does have a way of repeating itself. And I want to talk more about that. But quickly, let's take a short break to hear from our partner. — And now back to the conversation. And Ray, this idea of a formula for success is something that so often business leaders and anybody is looking for. For how can I mimic the success of someone else by using the same sort of principles that they have talked about or that they have valued. So I'm curious here, when we talk about the principles becoming a recipe—and I've heard you say before—like a recipe for getting what you want out of life. Is there really a way to account for every possible version of reality? Could we have created some sort of formula for when we encounter a pandemic like we are today? 


Ray [00:11:07] Yes. But you have to look at it from the higher, more general level. What happens is —. 


Kinsey [00:11:15] So saying pandemic is something like pain, not here's what I do if a pandemic happens. 


Ray [00:11:21] Right. That you could say, right, and what kind of pain? OK. Is it a health pain? Is it an economic pain? As you start to look at it at that higher level, you'll realize it's another one of those. OK. So  what is the reality? How much savings do I have? It's economic. How much savings do I have? How much savings do I need? What can happen on that circumstances? Or if it's a health thing, then how do you deal—what is it like to lose a loved one? Or how do I protect myself about those things? OK. 


Kinsey [00:12:03] Right. 


Ray [00:12:03] And so when you look at it at that level—I distilled—the book of principles that I wrote, I wrote over 20 years because I got in the habit of scribbling down each one and then I put a collection of them. That's it. But I distilled the most important ones into a 30-minute animated video. So it's all distilled in 30 minutes. The most important ones. It's called Principles for Success. It's on YouTube. It's free. So I would I would say do that. I did that because I also not only want to communicate that, I want to communicate to my grandkids when I'm not here. 


Kinsey [00:12:45] Right. 


Ray [00:12:46] So, yes, you can distill it all down, because the most important things are how you interact with reality. You're going to get setbacks. How do you deal with a setback? How do you deal with an opportunity? How do you have relationships? These most basic things have broad applications. 


Kinsey [00:13:13] So you are someone who a lot of people look up to in the business world, and I'm curious to understand more how your decision-making strategies are shifting right now. Obviously, you have these principles in place that you follow to make the most effective decisions to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. In the last three or six months, how have those strategies shifted, if at all? 


Ray [00:13:37] The underlying principles don't shift, OK? 


Kinsey [00:13:40] It's just the execution of the principles? 


Ray [00:13:43] No, you just follow the execution. So, what we have is there's a health issue and there's an economic issue. Let me put the health issue aside for a moment, though we should talk about that too. But what happens is, you have a situation where people lose incomes and so this is a big hit on their incomes. And it's a big hit on their balance sheets. So we have debt and we have incomes and those are our assets, but they're gone to a certain degree. What do governments do? What governments do is the government has got to give money and credit to others. If they don't do that, you have a depression. 


Ray [00:14:38] The day they do that, you have what I'll call reflation. In other words, OK, you're going to get your money. You're going to get your credit. And it has all the implications. So the announcement that was made, really coming on a Sunday night of the stimulus program, in which the government will give you all this money. And credit protection. And, you know, the trillions, the many trillions that this is going to be, came on that moment. 


Ray [00:15:21] That moment was the same moment as I was describing—that Roosevelt did this exact same thing on March 5th, 1933, and that is the same kind of moment as Nixon did on August 15th, 1971. And so when you go back there, the two things that you should know from that period is that, what did they do? They gave you a ton of money and credit. Where did they get it? Where did they get it from? They made it up. OK. They made it up, because they can make it up. 


Kinsey [00:16:04] Right. 


Ray [00:16:04] And so what does that mean for money and credit? And what does that mean for other assets? And so the same things happen over and over again for the same reasons. 


Kinsey [00:16:15] How come it feels like this kind of one-two punch of a pandemic and a recession is knocking so many people to their knees? If we should have theoretically been prepared for this to happen, given the historical record, why weren't people ready? Or do you think they are ready?


Ray [00:16:30] They don't look at the goddamn historical record. They don't look at the god—. 


Kinsey [00:16:35] [laughs] Why not? 


Ray [00:16:36] Why not? Because —


Kinsey [00:16:40] What's the root cause of people being so focused on today? 


Ray [00:16:42] Let me just—there are two questions that you're asking. 


Kinsey [00:16:48] OK. 


Ray [00:16:49] So I want to take them in the order. 


Kinsey [00:16:53] OK. 


Ray [00:16:53] OK. The first question is, do you know that—what are the same, what are the big things? The big things are that there's a money and credit cycle. The big things are that there's a wealth gap, that there's wealth gaps that grow and decline. And the big things are getting wealth and power and sometimes fights over wealth and power. 


Ray [00:17:30] And it happens in a pattern, [Kinsey laughs] but that what happens is there's always a boom. There's always the Roaring Twenties. And if you look back into the time before that, there was the Gilded Age. And the Gilded Age, which was in the late 1800s, and then ended up in a very large wealth gap in which there were robber barons, and a robber baron then is a derogative term like, I don't know, a selfish billionaire. 


Ray [00:18:06] And there was a large wealth gap and then there's an economic debt crisis. 1907—there's a debt crisis. And naturally, when things go down, people fight for wealth and power. And then it progresses. And that produces a shift in wealth and a redistribution of wealth. 


Ray [00:18:30] And sometimes it produces a war—World War I. And then, when you have a war, you have a restructuring of everything. Restructuring of wealth, restructuring. And you write down all the debts and you get started and you have it like a fresh beginning. And then people are inventive and they work well together. And then you have the Roaring Twenties. And then when you have the Roaring Twenties, people overdo it. And they borrow money. And then you have the debt crisis in 1929 to 32, and then you have a Roosevelt or you have somebody get on. 


Ray [00:19:14] And then they print the money and credit and then they redistribute, distribute the wealth. And then the United States, we did that in a civil way, in some places you do it in a power way, and then you had World War II. And so we came out of that with the new world order in 1945. So that was a new monetary system, new debt. And we began a prosperity and then we get that carried along. And then there's a limit—like you hit zero interest rates and then you have to do a restructuring. And that's why the same thing that's happening now happens again. Right? 


Kinsey [00:19:52] Right. So this cycle is pretty big picture. It's not necessarily, I'm going to bet on the stock market doing X Y Z over the next 6 months. 


Ray [00:20:00] Oh, but it is. It comes down to the day. OK. It comes down to the day, knowing that — 


Kinsey [00:20:08] But how could we have seen a coronavirus pandemic coming? We could be prepared on our balance sheet and personally and from a business perspective. But it wasn't possible to say, I've got an idea, there's a pandemic happening. 


Ray [00:20:22] I don't know how to predict pandemics, and I'm not saying that I can predict pandemics or anything like that, but one could have understood that in 1918, at the same time as there's this economic crash, there was a pandemic. I made the mistake of not being prepared because I didn't study that pandemic in that time. And I'm sort of kicking myself for not doing it because it was hidden and it was a big deal. But it was the end of World War II. It came in 1918 at the end of World War II. And so all the economic consequences had it mingled in with the end of World War II. So I lost sight of it. 


Ray [00:21:12] But if you went back and you said there are such things as pandemics, which now I'm doing and I'm have my decision rules for it because another one can come along. And then if it emerged, I could have—if I understood the pandemic of 19—the Spanish flu pandemic—and I understood other pandemics and how they worked, I could have understood that when this thing was germinating, that I could have reacted better to it and dealt with it better because they all happened in history before. And so the choice is: Does everything really happen in history before or not? Is this totally new or not? OK, it's not totally new. OK. And when you start, are you better to be informed about it or not? Yes. 


Ray [00:22:05] And so they may come along in certain ways. Let me give an example. The once in a 100-year hurricane. The droughts. There was a drought in the depression years. So acts of nature, whether they're a drought or a pandemic or a flood, nature has a big effect on us at certain times. Maybe climate change is going to be nurturing this thing and so on. So to be aware of how it has happened in the past and think what is the contemporary version of it, that's really essential. 


Kinsey [00:22:45] OK. And I'm curious here if—and you know, hindsight being 20/20—if you had known to study 1918, to study that pandemic, what the decision-making process would have looked like at Bridgewater, would it have differed. Would you have been one of the very few to benefit from something like this, that has wrought an economic recession here that we are almost certain will once it becomes a technical recession? Would your decision-making have looked differently? Would you have invested in different things?


Ray [00:23:17] Of course. Of course. Yes. Yes. 


Kinsey [00:23:20] What would you have invested in or gone heavily on? 


Ray [00:23:23] Well, what I would have done is to take all risks off the table and go more to some mix of cash and a little bit of gold. 


Kinsey [00:23:32] Is it too late for for the everyday person listening to this to implement that kind of strategy? 


Ray [00:23:37] I think I would say the everyday person has a choice. They can either try to compete in the zero-sum game or diversify themselves well. I would say to compete in the markets is more difficult than to compete in the Olympics. There are more people who are trying to do it and more resources [indistinct] put behind it. I put hundreds of millions of dollars each year in trying to do it well, more than that—many hundreds of millions of dollars—to try to play that game well. And it's a tough game to play and it's a zero-sum game. So it's like you go to the table. 


Ray [00:24:22] Somebody is going to take money from somebody else who could play the game better. So be humble and say, listen, I don't think I'm going to walk in there and play the game well and instead try to find out how do I diversify well. Because what you don't know is much greater than what you do know. OK, that's the big lesson. And that's a big thing in life and what always tells us. So like that. OK. The world, like you say, is very different than three months ago. OK. Hey, you want to know [indistinct] something? The world a year is going to be very different from the world today. OK. In ways that are difficult to imagine. 


Ray [00:25:04] And so you can try to bet on doing it well, which I tried to do in my tactical ways. And then you could also say, like, what I don't know is much greater than what I do know. So how do I diversify? Well, how do I keep myself safe? And then also aggressively betting. So, for example, one thing that they should do is everybody should understand how much money they need and get that covered. In other words, just think about if you didn't have your job or money didn't come in, how long could you successfully live with what you've got? 


Ray [00:25:50] Start there — 


Kinsey [00:25:50] Like having an emergency fund. 


Ray [00:25:52] Yes, start there. Get your worst-case scenario covered. Never be squeezed. Never be put into a position. So how many days, months—whatever it is—that saving that secures your well-being. Think of it in days of safety in your financials. How many days of safety? Because you could lose your job. So safety. Secure your safety first. And then once you've got your safety secured, you know, is that a year? I would say try to get it a year. And whatever it is. 


[00:26:39] But something like that. OK, now, and then have your scenario. Which is in that worst-case scenario, it's going to be like, OK, what's my worst-case scenario? And you have it and get that covered. Once you've got that covered, then you can play with your chips. Because you know that you will never go below that level that you can imagine as being acceptable. 


Kinsey [00:27:06] We're going to take a short break to hear from our partner. But when we come back, I want to ask you a question that I hope will make everybody listening to this think just a little harder. But quickly, a break to hear from our partner. —


Kinsey [00:27:19] And now back to the conversation with Ray Dalio. Ray, before that break, we were talking about how what we don't know is far greater than what we do know, that we should be prepared for this worst-case scenario before we start throwing money at the situation. Do you think enough people recognize that as a necessity today? 


Ray [00:27:37] No, but — 


Kinsey [00:27:37] I would argue they don't. 


Ray [00:27:38] No, but the way they learned is the way my parents' generation learned it. And it's because of the stress tests. That's how they learn. And my father went through depression and war. 


Ray [00:27:54] Now, he wanted to secure his well-being. Like luxury did not matter much, pass that. OK, can you secure—because you know what an increment of luxury is worth in relationship to an increment of secure state stability? I mean, it ain't worth much. 


Kinsey [00:28:12] Nothing. 


Ray [00:28:12] So what happens in these stress tests, in this big cycle I'm describing, is that people forget that. They don't learn those lessons. You can tell a child, don't put your hand on a hot stove, but they got to put their hand on a hot stove in order to learn not to put their hand on a hot stove. 


Kinsey [00:28:33] OK. Let's say you're in your 20s today. When you started Bridgewater—the same age—would you pursue the same kind of career? Would you start a hedge fund today if you were my age? 


Ray [00:28:45] So your work and your passion should be the same thing. And it's got to pay enough. And that's all I cared about. Would I like to do it again? I can tell you what I'd like to do. I love figuring out how the world works and betting on it. So I love that. So my big principles are meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And so my company, the culture I created, is I'll say to one sentence. It's an idea meritocracy in which the goals are meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And the way we want to get there is through radical truthfulness and radical transparency. 


Ray [00:29:32] That's what's life's about. That's what I want. And so I love the meaningful work that, you know, the game, to bet on it and all that, whatever it is, your meaningful work, each of us have it in our own ways. You have your own meaningful work, but have that meaningful work and then have that meaningful relationships when you're in it. 


Ray [00:29:53] Because when you look back—like I'm 70, I can look back on how the game works and so on. The thing that I treasure the most are the meaningful relationships. I loved the fact that I could have my curiosity and I could play my game and do that. But I love those meaningful relationships and the really meaningful relationships beyond myself. 


Kinsey [00:30:14] The people matter. I'm wondering here how this changes, though, in our new normal of working remotely. For those listening, we are recording this remotely. I have been working remotely for over a month now. Did those relationships suffer because of the way in which we're working today? Or are there ways to protect them?


Ray [00:30:32] No, we'll always find a new way. We'll always evolve. Man's creativity, human creativity is the greatest force. What you have is the world evolves around you. These realities change. And what we've seen through the history is man's capacity to adapt. And if that's what nature is—is adaptation. And man's capacity to adapt and re-optimize and find the best way of dealing will produce new and better results. And there'll be new and better and we'll adapt to them. 


Ray [00:31:11] We may not have the same versions of them and we may be attached to the old versions of them, but it'll almost change. And so if you're seeing social interactions the way it existed, I don't know, 50 years ago or 30 years ago or 20 years ago or 10 years ago, and you compare them with today, they're different. And those people who are attached to the old ways, OK. 


Ray [00:31:36] Well, that's OK. You might want to read a newspaper. OK. You might want to do it. And you do it in different ways, but you adapt. 


Kinsey [00:31:44] When we talk about this difference between old ways and new ways and learning to adapt, do you feel like you and—I'll call it your peers—but other billionaire business leaders have been put in a leadership position today. Do you find people looking to you more or less than usual? 


Ray [00:32:02] Well, there's so many questions in their leadership position. I know what my role is and what my role isn't. In other words, I'm not president of the United States. So in my role, I have to do my role well. So when they look to me for leadership, I'm not intending to overreach. I'm not intending to underreach and whatever it is. Second, I'm not really looking so much as to what others are looking to have me do as much as saying, what do I feel I want to do. 


Ray [00:32:41] So in my particular circumstances, I feel—I could explain the background—I feel that from—I grew up as a kid and a son of a jazz musician and a stay-at-home mom in a lower-middle class family. And I was blessed with parents who cared for me and ability to go to have a public school, to have a basic education. And I had health and those things. And I came out to a world that had equal opportunity that I believe that is. And I believe that people don't have that very much. Those kinds of things not nearly adequate. I think we've lost a mission for looking for those types of things and I feel blessed. 


Ray [00:33:32] So that's one of the things that I'm trying to help with in different ways. So in my own particular way, I believe that we have lost sight of what is our American dream. I believe it's equal opportunity. However, things come along, and can I help? So we don't have enough respirators and masks. So I'm going to where they are. I'm going to go to China. And I'm saying—I have friends in China for 35 years and so on. 


Ray [00:34:07] And they're helping in certain ways. So I'm doing that. It's not like somebody comes and says, have a leadership role. It's that you see something that needs to be done in perhaps the own way that you do. Now, I happen to have more resources to do that, but that's what it's like for me. 


Kinsey [00:34:29] OK. Ray, I want to ask you a big question about the future of capitalism. And I'm going to, but we're going to save the answer for part two of this interview. 


Kinsey [00:34:43] Thank you so much for listening to the first part of our conversation with the incredible Ray Dalio. We have part two of this conversationm which you do not want to miss, coming out soon. I promise you will get an answer to that cliffhanger we left you with today. Make sure you are subscribed to Business Casual on your platform of choice to ensure you don't miss out on the rest of the episode. And I'll see you then.