Ray Dalio and the Chains Forged in Life

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol chronicles the travails of a miserly employer, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Jacob Marley was Scrooge’s former business partner, a successful banker who died  several years earlier on Christmas Eve.  Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge on Christmas Eve wearing chains that he says he forged himself in life by his greed and selfishness.  He warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts who will prompt him to repent.

If Dickens’ was writing today,  he might have patterned Marley on Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, LP, a global investment management firm, who has published a 123-page document entitled “Principles” on the firm’s web site outlining his management beliefs.

Among other things, Dalio writes: “Firing people is not a big deal … .”  And, “it is your job as a manager to get at truth and excellence, not to make people happy.”

In A Christmas Carol, Marley told Scrooge:

“In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing holes! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!

Scrooge responds, “ But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!”

“”BUSINESS? Mankind was my business!” said Marley. “Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!”

I  hope that Dalio is wrong when he tells his managers that “most people who are given the choice of being ‘fair’ with you and taking more for themselves will choose taking more for themselves.”  But even if Dalio is right,  change will not occur until the privileged in our society provide a better example.  Doesn’t a man of such immense privilege owe society more than this mean-spirited perspective?

Instead of another gated mansion, I hope that Dalio is encouraged by the Spirit of Christmas Future  to  create a workplace that is kind and forgiving, as well as money-making, where workers are treated with dignity and respect.

The last ghost who visited Scrooge was the Spirit of Christmas Present, who opened his robe and revealed two starving children.

Ebenezer: [shocked] Spirit, are these yours?

Spirit of Christmas Present: They are Man’s. This boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy!

Ebenezer: But have they no refuge, no resource?

Spirit of Christmas Present: [quoting Scrooge] Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

DISCLAIMER: I wouldn’t be surprised if Dalio is a nice and charming fellow who contributes to charity and remembers his wife’s birthday.  He has done society a service by building a successful business, employing people and paying taxes.   And there are no doubt are many, many worse employers out there who haven’t publicized their “principles.”   I don’t mean to make any moral judgment about Dalio as an individual.   As the Pope said, who am I to judge? But his principles strike me as being selfish and penny-pinching and an assault on the  respect and dignity of workers.  Bah. Humbug.