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Ray Dalio says stagflation is likely because the Fed is failing to ‘drive the markets and economy like a good driver drives a car’

June 21, 2022, 8:19 PM UTC

Economic doomsaying is widespread lately as experts and business leaders predict that record inflation could help set off a recession.

Billionaire investor and Bridgewater hedge fund founder Ray Dalio recently added his voice to the mix, writing in a LinkedIn post on Tuesday that there’s nothing more federal regulators can do to avert an economic downturn—and that stagflation is likely. 

In doing so, Dalio joined the chorus of critics who argue that the Federal Reserve has acted either too slowly or too aggressively with regards to inflation. 

“Central banks should use their powers to drive the markets and economy like a good driver drives a car—with gentle applications of the gas and brakes to produce steadiness rather than by hitting the gas hard and then hitting the brakes hard, leading to lurches forward and backward,” he wrote.

The Fed, according to Dalio, hasn’t been a good driver.

Last week, the Fed instituted its third interest rate hike this year and its biggest since 1994. The 75-basis-point hike followed a 50-bps hike in May and a 25-bps hike in March. The increase followed news earlier this month that inflation did not decrease in May, as many had hoped following a brief dip in April, but instead increased to a new year-over-year high of 8.6% for consumer goods. 

The general idea that tight federal monetary policy can solve inflation is off the mark, according to Dalio. “I believe this is both naive and inconsistent with how the economic machine works,” he wrote. “That’s because that view only focuses on inflation as the problem and it sees Fed tightening as a low-cost action that will make things better when inflation goes away, but it’s not like that.”

Even if interest rate hikes help to reduce inflation, the policies still hurt consumers by cutting into their spending power, according to Dalio. “My main point is that while tightening reduces inflation because it results in people spending less, it doesn’t make things better because it takes buying power away,” he wrote.

Dalio doesn’t see a future in which the Fed achieves a “soft landing” for the economy, or avoids a recession while reining in inflation. “There isn’t anything that the Fed can do to fight inflation without creating economic weakness,” he wrote. “Over the long run the Fed will most likely chart a middle course that will take the form of stagflation.”

Stagflation is a combination of economic stagnation, high inflation, and high unemployment. It last occurred in the 1970s, when energy prices increased due to oil embargos and combined with other macroeconomic pressures. Paul Volcker, the Federal Reserve chair for eight years starting in 1979, is credited with helping to alleviate that period’s economic woes by instituting interest rate hikes.

Dalio, however, points out that Volcker’s tight monetary policy came with a cost. Inflation, he wrote, only went down with increased unemployment.

“In other words, inflation was reduced by people and companies being painfully squeezed and reducing spending,” he wrote in a footnote. “That’s always the case and will be the case this time.”

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