Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dueling Buffets, or The Apple Falls Far From the Tree



All know of the famous investor, Warren Buffet.  His father, while not so famous, was a man with a character different than that of his son. 

Howard Homan Buffett (August 13, 1903 – April 30, 1964) was an Omaha, Nebraska businessman, investor, and four-term Republican United States Representative. He was the father of Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor.

According to Warren Buffett biographer Roger Lowenstein:
“Unshakably ethical, Howard refused offers of junkets and even turned down a part of his pay. During his first term, when congressional salary was raised from $10,000 to $12,500, Howard left the extra money in the Capitol disbursement office, insisting that he had been elected at the lower salary.” His wife said he considered only one issue when deciding whether or not to vote for a bill: “Will this add to, or subtract from, human liberty?”

Buffett and [Murray] Rothbard corresponded for years, became friends, and commiserated with one another over the drift toward war, imperialism, and centralization, which was aided and abetted by the current leadership of the American right wing.

Corresponding with Rothbard!  Father Howard can be described as the Ron Paul of his day.  Son Warren can be described as, well, not that.

Let’s dig a bit further….


On military adventurism and foreign policy:

Howard:

Buffett was a vocal critic of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Of the Truman Doctrine, he said: "Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns."  Buffett was also "one of the major voices in Congress opposed to the Korean adventure," and "was convinced that the United States was largely responsible for the eruption of conflict in Korea….”

Speaking on the floor of Congress, he said of military interventionism that

“Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home….We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.”

In the summer of 1962, he wrote "an impassioned plea... for the abolition of the draft" in the New Individualist Review.  Buffett wrote: When the American government conscripts a boy to go 10,000 miles to the jungles of Asia without a declaration of war by Congress (as required by the Constitution) what freedom is safe at home? Surely, profits of U.S. Steel or your private property are not more sacred than a young man's right to life.

Warren:

The billionaire investor just endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in 2016.  "I hope it's Hillary Clinton," Buffett, the fourth-richest man in the world, told CNN on Wednesday. "I like what she believes in.”

Safe to say, Hillary does not believe in what Howard believes in when it comes to foreign policy and the military….


On gold and a gold standard:

Howard:

Howard Buffett strongly supported the gold standard because he believed it would limit the ability of government to inflate the money supply and spend beyond its means. 

“I warn you that politicians of both parties will oppose the restoration of gold, although they may outwardly seemingly favor it, unless you are willing to surrender your children and your country to galloping inflation, war and slavery then this cause demands your support.  For if human liberty is to survive in America, we must win the battle to restore honest money.  There is no more important challenge facing us than this issue -- the restoration of your freedom to secure gold in exchange for the fruits of your labors.”

“[W]hen you recall that one of the first moves by Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler was to outlaw individual ownership of gold, you begin to sense that there may be some connection between money, redeemable in gold, and the rare prize known as human liberty...Under such conditions the individual citizen is deprived of freedom of movement. He is prevented from laying away purchasing power for the future. He becomes dependent upon the goodwill of the politicians for his daily bread. Unless he lives on land that will sustain him, freedom for him does not exist."

Warren:

His son Warren Buffett is not an advocate of the gold standard.

“It gets dug out in Africa or some place. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”

“Gold is a way of going long on fear, and it has been a pretty good way of going long on fear from time to time. But you really have to hope people become more afraid in a year or two years than they are now. And if they become more afraid you make money, if they become less afraid you lose money, but the gold itself doesn’t produce anything.”

Howard sees gold as a check on government and a tool for the protection of freedom for the common man, an invaluable utility; Warren sees it only as an investment of some sort, without utility.


On taxes and federal spending:

Howard:

Far away from Congress is the real forgotten man, the taxpayer who foots the bill. He is in a different spot from the tax-eater or the business that makes millions from spending schemes. He cannot spend his time trying to oppose Federal expenditures. He has to earn his own living and carry the burden of taxes as well... The taxpayer was completely outmatched in such an unequal contest.

Warren:

Buffett has been an outspoken advocate of raising taxes on the wealthy.

“I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that.”

“We need to get rid of arrangements like “carried interest” that enable income from labor to be magically converted into capital gains. And it’s sickening that a Cayman Islands mail drop can be central to tax maneuvering by wealthy individuals and corporations.”

“Our government’s goal should be to bring in revenues of 18.5 percent of G.D.P. and spend about 21 percent of G.D.P.”

The Buffett Rule is named after American investor Warren Buffett, who publicly stated in early 2011 that he disagreed with rich people, like himself, paying less in federal taxes, as a portion of income, than the middle class, and voiced support for increased income taxes on the wealthy.

Howard: less taxes, less spending.  Warren: not that.


On fiat money:

Howard:

But first let me clear away a bit of underbrush. I will not take time to review the history of paper money experiments. So far as I can discover, paper money systems have always wound up with collapse and economic chaos.

Warren:

Warren Buffett Looks to Make 70% for Bailing Out Goldman Sachs

General Electric Co.’s (GE) gain of more than 20 percent this year is validating Warren Buffett’s $3 billion wager that the world’s largest maker of jet engines would rebound after the financial crisis.

In recent Berkshire annual meetings, Warren Buffett has praised Wells Fargo as one of his favorite investments.  It is ranked number one in the U.S. banking industry in total market value ($176 billion), even though it is only fourth largest by assets…. In 2008, it purchased Wachovia for $15 billion….

Expectations of a housing construction rebound and mortgage demand have even given some reason to expect that Wells Fargo may surprise on the upside for the remainder of 2012.

Of course, Buffett made preferred share investments in Goldman and Bank of America during the height of the crisis, but these were essentially super-safe loans that guaranteed a return and did not reflect his common stock plays.

Following the results of the U.S. Federal Reserve stress tests in March, it was many of Buffett’s investments like Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, and American Express, which led the way on share buyback plans and dividend boosts. Wells Fargo boosted its dividend 83 percent and indicated accelerated buybacks to a program launched in 2011. American Express unveiled a $5 billion buyback program of $5 billion and upped its quarterly dividend. Meanwhile U.S. Bancorp boosted its dividend by 56 percent and targeted $3.3 billion in buybacks.

Howard sees fiat money as sowing the seeds of economic chaos; Warren sees it as sowing the seeds for his investment cultivation.



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