FU, Warren Buffett

Warren BuffetTwo weeks after the election, Warren Buffett wrote a note to say thank you to Uncle Sam. Besides the inane conceit of writing as a grateful nephew, Buffett's missive is maddening. "Pretty Good for Government Work" perfectly captures the sophomoric - but corrosive - attitude towards government Buffett peddles in his public pronouncements. He leads with this: "My mother told me to send thank-you notes promptly. I’ve been remiss." No sh*t, Sherlock!

The Tea Baggers have done their damage already. It must of taken great courage to write this when it does no good at all. At the very least, you could have waited for a Thanksgiving release, when not only would it fit the theme of the day, but it would provide a tiny bit of cover for people to rebut their Real Patriot™ uncle: "See, even Warren Buffett thinks government is kind of good."

But Buffett has kept silent this past year. He only writes once a year for the NYT Op-Ed page. Last year's effort had a quick shout out to government as well and only one phrase undermining it, but the article was about those favorite topics of the anti-government crowd: the federal deficit, debt and printing money by the Fed. Needless to say, Buffett proclaimed all three to be dire threats to the nation. He also writes annually for the reports of Berkshire Hathaway, which are probably as widely read as the op-eds. Last year's letter included this:
At 86 and 79, Charlie and I remain lucky beyond our dreams. We were born in America; had terrific parents who saw that we got good educations; have enjoyed wonderful families and great health; and came equipped with a “business” gene that allows us to prosper in a manner hugely disproportionate to that experienced by many people who contribute as much or more to our society’s well-being.
Yes, you had good parents and a "business" gene. None of your success was due to any outside factors like public education, the post-war creation of a middle-class with enormous buying power, financial regulation that prevented an economic crisis for 70 years, public investments in infrastructure, or anything like that. Me good, gummit bad!

So what does The Oracle from Omaha say now the election is safely behind us:
A destructive economic force unlike any seen for generations had been unleashed.

Only one counterforce was available, and that was you, Uncle Sam. Yes, you are often clumsy, even inept. But when businesses and people worldwide race to get liquid, you are the only party with the resources to take the other side of the transaction. And when our citizens are losing trust by the hour in institutions they once revered, only you can restore calm.

When the crisis struck, I felt you would understand the role you had to play. But you’ve never been known for speed, and in a meltdown minutes matter. I worried whether the barrage of shattering surprises would disorient you. You would have to improvise solutions on the run, stretch legal boundaries and avoid slowdowns, like Congressional hearings and studies. You would also need to get turf-conscious departments to work together in mounting your counterattack. The challenge was huge, and many people thought you were not up to it.

Well, Uncle Sam, you delivered. People will second-guess your specific decisions; you can always count on that. But just as there is a fog of war, there is a fog of panic — and, overall, your actions were remarkably effective.
Gee, that's nice Warren, but can you at least hold the side of smarm when you're serving a plate of passive-aggressive praise? And of course Buffett doesn't give any credit to the federal bureaucracy, the career public servants1 that actually makes things happen. Nope. Rather, he praises the machers at the top who helped us get into this mess:
In the darkest of days, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner and Sheila Bair grasped the gravity of the situation and acted with courage and dispatch. And though I never voted for George W. Bush, I give him great credit for leading, even as Congress postured and squabbled.
I don't know about Sheila Bair, but the other schmucks? All the Three Stooges did was say "Too Big to Fail" and worked through a couple of weekends. Bush43 leading during the financial crisis?!? HA! What is Warren smoking? Chris Dodd and Barney Frank tore up Paulson's 3 page "bill" and bailed out the administration with actual work toward a solution. Now the solution might not have been the best, but the problem was really hard. Oh, and Buffett toots his own horn in the stockholder's letter, too:
When the financial system went into cardiac arrest in September 2008, Berkshire was a supplier of liquidity and capital to the system, not a supplicant. At the very peak of the crisis, we poured $15.5 billion into a business world that could otherwise look only to the federal government for help.
Wow, over $15 billion. That's great. That made a really big difference to the over $2,000 billion of liquidity the federal government supplied. Thanks, Berkshire Hathaway, you prevented socialism! Oh, and I'm sure you did it out of the goodness of your heart and your desire to avoid an enormous financial catastrophe that would hurt all Americans. What Warren very obviously leaves out is that the "business world" included this deal: "Warren Buffett Looks to Make 70% for Bailing Out Goldman Sachs." And other great deals with blue chippers:
In 2008 and 2009, Berkshire invested more than $21 billion in Goldman, General Electric Co., Swiss Reinsurance Co., Dow Chemical Co. and Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. in the form of preferred equity, bonds or other capital instruments.

Many of the investments had terms that guaranteed fat returns for Berkshire, run by Mr. Buffett, whose reputation helped boost investor confidence in the companies when financial markets were in turmoil and capital was scarce.
There are others similarly criticizing Buffett:

David Stockman, "Warren Buffett's Humbug."

David Weidner, "Hey, Warren Buffett, thanks for nothing," at The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch, no less.

UPDATE: Yes, Buffett has called for higher tax rates for the rich. That's nice. Has he spent a dime trying to accomplish it? Has he ever spent any effort on it? Put your money where your mouth is, Warren. Until then, f-ck off.

UPDATE II: December 6. An off-line comment from TOM was critical of my near-use of an explicative. So I'll back off a bit and be more constructive: send in your check, Warren. Write a check to the U.S. Treasury and fill in the amount with how much extra you would have paid under the tax law of 2000. I hope there are lots of zeros in that amount. Just to equal the size of the bad-mouthing of government regulation that Buffett has said over the years. Now, in almost all cases, this would be an empty gesture, helping no one. But Buffett is different. Not just because the amount would be huge: it couldn't be large enough to make any difference to the government. Rather for the bully pulpit Buffett has. What if he scheduled a press conference to drop off a big fake check at the Federal Reserve and opened his remarks by saying "Paying taxes is patriotic! Every dollar you don't pay decreases the safety and support of our troops."

1 When's the last time you heard that phrase to describe public employees?

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