Buffett is lauded for his common sense and his modesty -- the very fact that he still lives in Nebraska, rather than moving to New York, LA or Washington, DC, seems to give him credibility. And the fact that he lives in the same modest house he bought many decades ago somehow shows that he is "one of us" rather than the usual greedy, grasping, maximizing-shareholder-value corporate executive or Wall Street shark.
To be honest, I have read several books by and about Buffett, and have paid attention to his musings for a number of years. He does offer good investment advice, and in many ways he is a reasonable, responsible person.
He is a good businessperson. And there's nothing wrong with being a businessperson. But let's face it, that folksy image and golly-gee-whiz approach is mostly a product of marketing and public relations. He may be skeptical, like many of us, about the salesmanship and sheer arrogance that comes out of Wall Street. But he himself is a sharp, crafty operator who is singularly focused on making money for himself, his partners and, sure, his shareholders, too -- anyone who can pony up for at least one unit of BRK-A at $247,000 per share.
What got me started on this is my recent experience with a real-estate agent who works for Berkshire Hathaway. Normally the real-estate agent is paid by the seller. But now Berkshire Hathaway is sneaking in a new fee, charging an extra $375 to the buyer. For administrative fees. For doing all the paperwork. In other words, for no other reason than it can.
So at the same time folksy old Buffett trades on his image as a regular guy, in favor of fair, honest liberal capitalism, he is gouging homebuyers for an extra $375 just for the privilege of doing business with him.
Meanwhile, Buffett is a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. But does he truly support Democratic policies and values? Well, Berkshire Hathaway also owns a railroad company that makes a lot of money by hauling coal -- dirty, old coal -- for the electric companies to burn and pollute the atmosphere. Buffett says the right things about the environment. But let's pay attention to what he does, not what he says. Think about it ... is what he does much different from Donald Trump lifting regulations on coal miners?
Buffett also own a big interest in United Airlines. He surely had nothing to do with pulling that doctor off the flight. But don't you think, as a major shareholder, he has something to do with the general atmosphere and culture of the company? Ditto with Wells Fargo and all those bogus accounts the company opened without the permission or knowledge of its customers.
Then there's Coca Cola. He owns a big chunk of the company, and guzzles several cans of Coke a day. Does it worry him that Coke contains enormous amount of sugar? Does he feel in any way responsible for the obesity epidemic going on in America today?
Apparently not. For when he defends his product he sounds disturbingly like the cigarette makers who defend smoking, or the gun manufactures who say that guns don't kill people, people kill people.
Says Buffet, as quoted in Fortune: "I drink about five Cokes a day. It has about 1.2 ounces of sugar in it ... I like to get my calories from this. I enjoy it ... and I think that choice should be mine. Maybe sugar is harmful and maybe you'd encourage the government to ban sugar ... But I think Coca Cola has been a very positive factor in the country and the world. And I really don’t want anyone telling me I can’t drink it."
Now I don't mean to bash Warren Buffett. Or Coke, for that matter. Or Wells Fargo. I occasionally enjoy a Coke or a Diet Coke. Just please don't try to tell me that Coke is good for me. I have an account at Wells Fargo -- but it's been a joke in my family for years that you simply cannot walk in the door of a Wells Fargo branch without the teller trying to sell you on a service or open a new account -- and if you have a credit card through Wells Fargo it doesn't blush at charging 20% interest or more on an unpaid balance or cash advance. So don't try to tell me that Wells Fargo is looking after my best interests.
And please don't try to tell me that Warren Buffett is some kind of American hero, or friend of the American consumer. He is not an evil person. He gives a lot of money to charity. But he has made his fortune selling sugar and coal and questionable financial products to the masses. All I'm saying is, it's a little early to start granting him sainthood.