Even a Caveman Can Do the Math



His company has made millions with a lizard as spokesman, but Warren Buffett is no Gordon Gekko.

The barely fictional Wall Street character that won Michael Douglas an Oscar was famous for saying, “Greed is good.”

At a $4,600-a-seat Manhattan fundraiser for Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, Buffett blasted the outrageous U.S. tax system in ways that few other billionaires do.

Some news outlets reported Buffett’s wonderful dig at George W. Bush:

He recalled a saying, “buy stock in a company that’s so good that an idiot can run it, because sooner or later one will.” When he added, “now I think that sort of applies to the country too, actually,” the audience burst out laughing.

“We have an opportunity in 2008 to repair a lot of damage,” Buffett said.

That Reuters story noted that Hillary — who has spent a lot of time with the super-rich, including, pardon her husband, Denise Rich — mostly kept quiet, something she’s getting skilled at doing. She has too much fundraising to do to start blasting the rich as Buffett did.

Unfortunately, you have to go overseas for the best story on Buffett’s homily to the fellow rich. Under the blaring headline “Buffett blasts system that lets him pay less tax than secretary,” Tom Bawden of the Times (U.K.) writes this morning:

Mr Buffett said that he was taxed at 17.7 per cent on the $46 million he made last year, without trying to avoid paying higher taxes, while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 per cent. Mr Buffett told his audience, which included John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley, and Alan Patricof, the founder of the US branch of Apax Partners, that US government policy had accentuated a disparity of wealth that hurt the economy by stifling opportunity and motivation.

Even a caveman can do the math.

Yes, Buffett is so rich from GEICO and a slew of other companies that he can afford not to be greedy. Shares of his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, are going for $107,000 each, and he owns more than 3 million shares. Nevertheless, he often says things that you don’t have be a Junior Achievement member to love.

His folksy annual letters to Berkshire shareholders are rich, even for those of us who aren’t. The wealthy are so fond of quoting Ronald Reagan, but the idiosyncratic Buffett taps a different vein. In his 2006 letter, speaking of “giant-company managers” he admires, Buffett picked the one Reagan quote that summed up his presidency and could easily apply to George Bush Jr. as well. Buffett wrote:

I don’t think I could do the management job they do. And I know I wouldn’t enjoy many of the duties that come with their positions — meetings, speeches, foreign travel, the charity circuit and governmental relations. For me, Ronald Reagan had it right: “It’s probably true that hard work never killed anyone — but why take the chance?”