Warren Buffett is a mega-successful investor and one of the wealthiest men on the planet. He is chairman, CEO and the largest shareholder of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway.
He is also a man universally worshipped on the internet; a touchstone for all quotable wisdom, he is fetishised from the top of business ivory towers to the low, lapping shores of self-help, where empty snake oil bottles clink and clack together, washed up by the surf, collected by desperate wannabes hoping to get rich quick.
To criticise Buffett is foolish I know, one will not find an ally in such endeavours. Foolish yes, but mean and bitter also. No good can come from trying to lampoon such a deified individual, especially one in the twilight years of his life.
Yet here I am, heeding no good advice, to write an article that does exactly that.
Still, this isn’t so much about criticising the man, it is merely offering a counterweight to all that worshipping, it is bringing Buffett back down to the level of an ordinary human being. It is explaining that despite conventional wisdom, he isn't the role model you might think. That perhaps, in some topsy-turvy universe, the sheer accumulation of cash whilst adding no society isn't the pinnacle of human activity.
Though of course, I understand this argument won’t wash as either a pardon or a pass; any swipe at King Buffett will be considered treason.
So f*ck it. With that in mind, let the metaphorical regicide begin.
What has Buffett done to get so rich?
He’s moved imaginary units of nothing around a screen and made money. Apparently, this makes him some sort of hero.
Is he a nurse or a doctor? No. A firefighter? A care worker? No. A soldier? No again. Is he an artist, an author, a writer of spectacular songs that delve deep into the human soul? Also no.
What Warren Buffett does is run an insurance company and an investment fund; a dull pursuit, though a lucrative one, and he is well-oiled in making good bets.
So good in fact, that his ability to guess with a decent degree of accuracy has brought with it financial wealth and worldwide fascination.
Yet, I still suggest he’s a dullard. Insurance! Is there a more boring topic?
Buffett’s bullsh*t house and his bullsh*t car
Buffett's net worth is $88.9 billion. He’s the fourth richest person in the world and yet, get this, he drives a cheap saloon car and has lived in the same modest house since 1958, valued today at a mere $500,000.
This is apparently why he's great. To many, this frugality is an indicator of his mental superiority. In classic internet hypocrisy, he is positioned as both a shrewd, business-minded stockbroker and a serene, spiritual guru who shuns materialism.
No one can be both.
My guess is he's actually a greedy investor with a good sense for a bet who is boring enough to not have a nice car or an indoor swimming pool. That's all.
What is the point in embarking on a career where nothing is made and nothing is produced and then not even spending the money generated from such an empty endeavour?
I fail to see the point in any of it. It's depressing if you ask me.
Buffett is endlessly quoted, as if every opinion he holds is holy and profound, like a modern-day prophet and his words would stand in good stead if it was accompanied by trumpets and singing angels when it was spoken.
He once famously said:
"If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die."
Let me remind you, he’s currently 89 years old and is still working. By choice. Does he not take on board his own pontifications? Or are they meaningless soundbites?
Buffet also drinks Coca-Cola for breakfast. He might place good bets on the stock market but it seems his nutritional choices are dire. Do you want to take advice from someone who drinks fizzy pop to start their day?
And if we're really being picky (it looks like we are), he also plays the ukulele, the instrument they give out to everyone as they arrive in hell.
Do you know who else is a successful, coke drinking, risk-taking businessman? Donald Trump.
Yet Trump is hard-nosed and boastful, counter to Buffett’s quiet demeanour and cuddly-faced appearance, so people don’t like to quote him. They like to hate him. To me, they're one and the same. Actually, Trump might be an insufferable individual but at least he doesn’t play the f*cking ukulele.
On a more serious note, Buffett recently disowned his son’s adopted daughter after she appeared in a documentary about the growing power of the super-rich, called ‘The One Percent’. Buffett sent her a letter saying “I have not emotionally or legally adopted you as a grandchild, nor have the rest of my family adopted you as a niece or a cousin.” Which was nice.
It's true no one knows the real details of that family fall out, but it serves as a tale to illustrate the man is hardly infallible. Considering he's a man positioned as some sort of guru, he seems mighty touchy.
In his defence, it is worth stating the obvious: Buffett grew rich by working hard and embracing risk. He eagerly promotes the idea that the super-rich must pay their taxes and most notably, he is donating most of his fortune to philanthropic causes.
He has achieved rare things, and humans look to outliers for inspiration.
But does that mean he should be so lauded by the general populace? Should a mere investor done-good be your life role model? Or anyones?
I’ve never been able to square the circle of Buffett-worship. I couldn’t see what was so impressive. Making money to make money doesn't appeal to me. Money is an energy exchange, except when it comes to betting on imaginary numbers on a screen. It feels alarmingly soulless.
I suspect Buffett is internationally admired because he represents the possibility to make ludicrous amounts of cash without seemingly doing much. He’s an accidental poster boy for the get rich quick brigade; even if the reality is he's an extremely hard-working, intelligent man, who has dedicated his life to understanding investments.
So, if you want to know how to make money investing, he’s your man. But for anything else? For life advice? As a role model? As a family man? I'd suggest there are plenty of real role models worthy of your attention above this fella. Great, he's made himself a lot of cash, but have him as a role model? I say no f*cking way.