Inflation, Oil Prices, and Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Interview with David M. Rubenstein - Mitchell Dong

I had the opportunity to interview David M. Rubenstein on behalf of Harvard Business School. David is a co-founder and co-chairman of The Carlyle Group, one of the largest and most successful private investment firms in the world, as well as Chairman of boards spanning several industries, from the arts to healthcare, and Chairman of the Boards of Duke University. He is a philanthropist and original signer of the Giving Pledge, and he served as a deputy domestic policy advisor to President Jimmy Carter.

In this interview, David discussed philanthropy, foreign policy, cryptocurrency, and the economy. One of my first questions concerned the impending inflation:

“Our audience of Harvard Business School grads is very concerned about our economy. You spent four years in the Carter White House, when inflation was raging at 15% or so, and now, inflation seems to be coming back ­– Mohamed El-Erian, who used to be the head of the Harvard Endowment, thinks it’s set to rise into the double digits again.

Given your experience with inflation and working with former President Carter and Paul Volcker, how do you think Chairman Jeremy Powell should deal with inflation today, and do you think that the Federal Reserve gave too little, too late?”

David responded, “…When Paul Volcker was appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve by Jimmy Carter, and we already had high inflation — over one weekend, he increased the federal discount rate by 200 basis points, which is gigantic. Eventually, it did produce the desired effect — inflation went down, but so did the GDP; as a result, we entered a recession.

“In our current situation, I don’t see a recession in the near future; however, nobody could predict the Russia-Ukraine economic and political situation. Clearly, the energy and food inflation we’re experiencing is having a large effect on the CPI. I suspect that 8% is a high for inflation, and that it’ll subside — for the year, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have 4–5% inflation. Again, if Russia-Ukraine conflict continues for a long time and energy prices continue rising, it could be higher, but I don’t foresee it rising into double-digits — we have a very different economy than we did in the 70’s.”

To investigate David’s thoughts on today’s energy economy, I responded, “The economies of the 70’s and today have one thing in common — skyrocketing energy prices. Of course, they rose a lot more during Carter’s years, and, currently, our energy economy is much more diversified than it was in the past.”

David said, “It was a different situation — we were much more dependent on foreign oil in those days than we are now; today, our energy consumption is more self-sufficient. The issue is: that because energy and oil prices were down the last couple of years, many oil drilling projects were permanently closed or aren’t producing as much as they were before. We aren’t producing as much as we could be, so we are currently more dependent on foreign pricing than we should be.

“War in the 1970s caused the price of oil to increase by 400% — this shock to the system set the double-digit inflation of the Carter presidency in motion. Our current energy rate increase won’t instigate inflation as much, but we aren’t likely to see prices down to $40 a barrel anytime soon.”

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Mitchell Dong is a serial entrepreneur and savvy steward for investors. He is the CEO of Pythagoras Investment Management, a hedge fund that trades cryptocurrencies. Mitchell’s fund is the oldest and largest Bitcoin trading fund, and they manage it with an Ivy League academic team. Mitchell has managed hedge funds for 25 years and has been starting and selling businesses for half a century with half a dozen successful exits.

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