Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Curious Case of Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is, as the title of this post states, a curious case. (Much more so than Benjamin Button, in my opinion) On the one hand, he is one of the greatest investors of our time, generating many billions of dollars in wealth for himself, his employees, and countless others. On the other hand, he sees no virtue in his wealth creation. He views it as something he does to make a living, and believes that real virtue lies in giving all that wealth away.

Buffett represents far too many businesspeople today; people who show up at work and approach their tasks with a rational pursuit of their own self-interest, and then go home and feel guilty about what they have produced. Theirs is a contradiction of the worst kind, that of confusing virtue for sin, with all the guilty feelings that accompany it. Periodically on this post, I will post two quotes from well-known, financially successful businessmen and -women. One will be an encouraging quote about the individual's rational approach to business, and the other will be a contradicting quote emphasizing that individual's irrational approach to the rest of his life. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of quotes to form such a juxtoposition.

Here is Buffett:

"As far as I am concerned, the stock market doesn't exist. It is there only as a reference to see if anybody is offering to do anything foolish. When we invest in stocks, we invest in businesses. You simply have to behave according to what is rational rather than according to what is fashionable." -Quoted in One up on Wall Street, by Peter Lynch

"But to the extent we did amass wealth, we were totally in sync about what to do with it - and that was to give it back to society.

In that, we agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society. In my case, the ability to allocate capital would have had little utility unless I lived in a rich, populous country in which enormous quantities of marketable securities were traded and were sometimes ridiculously mispriced. And fortunately for me, that describes the U.S. in the second half of the last century." Quoted in Forbes

Talk about your self-esteem issues.

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