So do the algorithms predict another war? Dalio ducks the question, but admits that he cannot see anything to reverse this trajectory. That is partly because he thinks digital technology is inexorably exacerbating inequality, by eliminating jobs. “We’re headed for a world where you’re either going to be able to write algorithms and speak that language or be replaced by algorithms,” he observes. Another problem is the ever-rising level of global debt. “I am not predicting anything like the type of debt crunch we had in 2008,” he says. “But there is a tightening financial squeeze which is going to hurt the bottom 60 per cent more and more, particularly when we have the next recession.”
So how will he protect himself from pitchforks? I raise the example of Silicon Valley billionaires, such as Peter Thiel, who have built bolt-holes in remote places around the world to survive any looming Armageddon. “No, I don’t have some place to hide.”
Not even a bolthole in Jackson Hole? Dalio shakes his head even though he has snowboarded there. In any case, it seems that his deepest passion — when not at work — is exploring the ocean. He recently tried ice diving in the Antarctic, and was thrilled to see leopard seals. I suggest this is because it is an escape from his obsessively measured life; nobody can judge a penguin on an iceflow with an iPad. He laughs. “Meditation has the same effect.” He has done transcendental meditation twice a day since 1969, and encourages Bridgewater employees to embrace it.
Our burgers arrive: unpretentious patties and crisp fries. We dip the golden sticks in ketchup; they are hot and delicious. Then we both grab the burgers with our hands. The patties are so freshly homemade that the meat crumbles out of the bun, tumbling on to the plates in an ungainly mess. I lick my fingers as if I were six years old.
So what would he do if he were president? Does he want to see redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor? Should billionaires pay more tax? He dodges the question, and says instead he wants to see more “social impact investing” and “bring in private sector investors who are philanthropists to partner with public initiatives”. It is standard elite chatter.
So how is Trump performing? He sighs and admits that he does not want to say anything negative. However, his views have oscillated. Before the 2016 election, Dalio predicted that equity prices would plunge 10 per cent if Trump prevailed. “I didn’t expect him to win,” he admits. But when Trump took office Dalio suggested that his programme of tax cuts and deregulation would be beneficial for the economy. “He’s a lot less reckless than I originally thought he would be,” Dalio says. But he does not like the balance of tax cuts, enshrined in the recent bill, fearing like most economists that this will increase income inequality and social fractures.
Dalio has pushed his vast burger aside, half eaten. He refuses a dessert, opting instead for coffee. What lies next for you, I ask? It is a sensitive issue. Almost a decade ago Dalio tried to create a succession plan. However, this has unravelled several times. “We went through a difficult succession evolution. I thought it would take three years or so, but I was wrong, it took us eight,” he admits. “But learning comes from making painful mistakes and then reflecting.” Eventually, Dalio took outside advice: Jim Collins, author of the fabled management book Good to Great is a favoured mentor. He has stepped down as chief executive, but remains chairman and chief investment officer.
Some rivals think the turmoil might continue. Jim Grant, the veteran analyst, was deeply critical of Bridgewater in a recent research note, suggesting its performance is deteriorating, partly because shifts in the interest-rate environment make the fabled “risk parity” structure less effective. Dalio vehemently rejects this. “Jim Grant doesn’t have a clue. I like him as a thinker but this [report] was bad — he had to retract almost everything.” However, the fact Dalio is on a book tour has reminded some investors of the long history of corporate leaders who grace magazine covers and publish books at the peak of their success but later crumble.
What about a move to politics or public service? He shakes his head. “It’s not my thing.” He does not even like using his wealth to shape politics: unlike other hedge fund titans, such as Robert Mercer, the co-chief executive of Renaissance, who was the biggest single donor to the Trump campaign. Dalio does not endorse political candidates. “The only candidate I [ever] supported was John McCain... because he was bipartisan and I thought he had a good character.”
The bill arrives: a mere $52. The angry Americans suffering in the modern global economy and who are prime candidates for rhetoric against the 1 per cent cannot pillory him for that. As we walk out of the restaurant, I regret one thing: not having asked him to bring one of his iPads to put him through his own radical transparency test.