I think there’s a real danger in banking our investment and financial decisions on opinions — no matter how vaulted the source. Such is the case with Warren Buffett — the Oracle of Omaha — and his annual shareholders letter for Berkshire Hathaway. Mr. Buffett makes clear that he strongly disagrees with the pessimism directed towards the U.S. economy by current presidential candidates. Innovation and the pioneering spirit of America will ultimately save the day, and our children will reap the rewards. That’s a possibility, certainly, but the Oracle also ignores some crucial data.
“It’s an election year, and candidates can’t stop speaking about our country’s problems (which, of course, only they can solve),” Mr. Buffett dryly states. He further explains his sarcasm, noting that politicians are merely fear-mongering for votes. Those born today will eventually be the luckiest generation in history.
According to Mr. Buffett’s observations, the middle-class in today’s society enjoys a lifestyle of whom elitists like John D. Rockefeller would be envious. On a “scale-less” perspective, the point is true. We have smartphones that can access the internet, send emails, buy a stock — among several other things. And yes, we can make phone calls from virtually anywhere in the world.
But such line of reasoning falls apart when we apply a relativity of scale. Rockefeller enjoyed the wealth, power, and influence that was rarely surpassed in his era. For better or for worse, his name carries a legacy that will, in all likelihood, carry well into the future. How many of us will have that honor? Statistically, very few.
The unusually disingenuous line of thinking continues with Buffett’s assertions about gross domestic product growth. He admits that a rough average of 2% growth in GDP is hardly impressive; however, because the population is growing between 0.8% to 1% a year, over the course of the next 25 years, this would translate into +30% GDP growth.
This ignores the fact that in previous decades, the U.S. experienced double-digit percentage growth every year, not every generation. Furthermore, this argument conveniently ignores the fact that we are experiencing a dramatic paradigm shift in our demographics — baby boomers and their massive wave into retirement. While that may open up opportunities for younger workers, the labor market itself is shrinking in terms of substantive jobs. Plus, an enormous amount of fiscal resources will have to be spent on the unfunded liabilities of social security and other welfare programs.
Perhaps the most damning charge against Buffett is that he is a supporter of Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House. That by itself should be reason to dismiss Buffett’s optimism. Clinton and her ilk would simply siphon the shrinking middle-class to give to the needy and to fund the “unfundable.” Why should she or Buffett care? It’s not their money on the line, but socialists sure do want to spend yours.
This Robin Hood tactic may work in fairy tales but it has shown little evidence of success in the real world. Forcibly redistributing wealth, demography, or academic standing has simply created opulent ghettos — people who have become wealthy on paper but are poor in heart. So called progressive tactics rob people of incentive and the concept of meritocracy.
It’s something that people should know as common sense, especially from one called an oracle.