Ray Dalio in heated debate says capitalism is denying 'the American dream'

  • Capitalism doesn't need to be destroyed but it does need to be reformed, hedge fund titan Ray Dalio tells CNBC in a blistering critique of the system.
  • He says the question is whether there is "equal opportunity for the American dream." He says he did have that chance, but too many others do not.

Capitalism doesn't need to be destroyed but it does need to be reformed, hedge fund titan Ray Dalio said Monday in a blistering critique of the system.

"I'm capitalist, I'm a professional capitalist. The system has worked for me," the Bridgewater Associates founder said during a fiery debate on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "I didn't have anything and then I got something through the capitalist system."

However, he said the question is whether there is "equal opportunity for the American dream." He said that he did have that chance, but too many others do not.

"So I was raised with equal opportunity. I went through the public school system and I had parents who took care of me. Then I was able to come in with equal job opportunities," he added.

His appearance featured a contentious back-and-forth with CNBC host Joe Kernen who argued that a lot of the faults Dalio was citing were not about capitalism but problems with fiscal and monetary policy instead.

"I honestly don't understand what it is we're arguing about," Dalio said at one point.

Too many people, in particular the bottom 60 percent of U.S. workers, are not getting those kinds of opportunities, he said.

Part of the problem Dalio cited is the failing public school system that is leading to high levels of incarceration. Technology is also another culprit as it both improves the everyday lives of Americans but also displaces many of them from their jobs.

At the root of the issue is a failure of the system to make sure people are not being left behind.

"How is it been for income? How has it been for equal opportunity? That has been something for a long, long, long time. Is that deniable that it is producing those outcomes?" he said. The result, he added, "is producing a terrible split in our country."

Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates Founder, President & CIO.
Anjali Sundaram | CNBC
Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates Founder, President & CIO.

Dalio has used philanthropy to help address inequality. While he's accepted subsidies to stay in Connecticut, he also has donated $100 million to the state, whose public education is generally ranked among the top in the country. The 2018 USA Today rankings put the state fifth.

Dalio told CNBC that it was probably a mistake for Bridgewater to accept the subsidy.

"I look at myself as a byproduct of capitalism when it also gave equal opportunity, the American dream. I was very lucky to live the American dream by having the proper care and the proper public school education," he said. "A number of things have changed."

CORRECTION: The article's headline was updated to show that Ray Dalio said capitalism is not providing 'the American dream.'