Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

Warren Buffett

He's our Mozart, a manager who has mastered the monetary métier. He's our Shakespeare, a financial writer who puts everyone else to shame. He's our Joe DiMaggio, with a stock-market hit streak that will never be bettered. He's also our George Bailey, the too-good-to-be-true capitalist (except in our nonfictional account, he's richer than Mr. Potter). And if he weren't such a nice guy, we would all be jealous of him instead of standing in awe of him and his plainspoken nature.

He's Warren Buffett, the man who built Berkshire Hathaway into the most successful investment vehicle in history. That would be enough, if he also weren't the repository of all that is honest and wise in finance, someone who should be Exhibit A in all the white collar prosecutions now under way. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, despite the protestations of the defendant that he didn't know what he did was wrong, we present you with Warren Buffett, who made fortunes without cutting a single corner, without being greedy and without a whiff of scandal."

His secret is to have no secrets. He tells you, in his annuals, the single best-read of all finance documents, exactly how he made his money in the previous year. They should be taught in school, and not just business school, but also in high school and, yes, in Sunday school. He knows what he knows and doesn't try to know more than that. He avoided tech because he professed not to understand it. His ignorance cost him a couple of years underperformance, but he quickly caught up and passed everyone by focusing on bonds and housing plays—two boring, overlooked areas that turned out to be the best-performing sectors of the last decade.

Lately, Buffett has become more than just a financial wizard. He waxes about the absurdity of cutting taxes for those who least need the money, and can't figure out the wisdom in abolishing the inheritance tax, even though he arguably has more skin in the game than anyone save Bill Gates. The Bushies have gotten tired of his scolding and have tried to portray him as a crotchety Nebraskan coot who's lost a step. The reality is that Buffett is simply a capitalist who genuinely believes our species is capable of reciprocal altruism. His number should be retired, his jersey hung from the rafters of the New York Stock Exchange and the pantheon closed, because he has no equal in the game.

Cramer is a commentator for and CNBC

From the Archive
Comeback Crusader: Investing legend Warren Buffett has regained his golden touch, and his call for reform has CEOs running scared — or taking notes