Why Warren Buffett isn't worried by America's deep political divide

Andy Serwer
Editor in Chief

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Warren Buffett has long been famously bullish on America—and he certainly has walked the talk—investing tens of billions in U.S. companies and profiting handsomely. He’s also not shy about sharing his take on the U.S.A., pontificating almost annually about the advantages that America has and confers upon its citizens and investors.

This year, though, Buffett seemed to be especially bullish, which may have surprised some, given how divided our country is politically. I recently sat down with Buffett in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, to ask him about this.

“America is America,” he tells me. “I’ve always said that I felt the same way. I just wrote about it a little different terms this year, perhaps.”

I followed up and asked him if he wasn’t somewhat more concerned now, given the political and economic divisions that seem so acute and don’t appear to be getting any better for the time being.

America has a long history of overcoming political divides

“Well, we’ve had a civil war in this country we got over. So this country can get over a lot. [And] you may not be old enough to remember the ’60s and early ’70s. But the divisions were very, very sharp then,” Buffett says. “So we’ve had plenty of times in this country where the feelings have been intense. But it’s never stopped the country. The economy grows. We have these hiccups from time to time. That’s part of a market system.”

“America’s never been wealthier than it is today. Now, the inequality bothers people, including me. I think that in a country where the G.D.P. in real terms has gone up six for one since I was born, there shouldn’t be anybody that’s willing to work 40 hours a week and has a couple of children where it really doesn’t give ’em a fairly decent standard of living,” he said.

Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Buffett continued: “Our market system, as it gets more specialized, produces more overall wealth. But it also leaves significant numbers of people behind, which I’ve written about that. If you’d been in the waiting room with my dad in 1930 when I was being born and you told him two things. You told him that there’d be a six for one increase in real G.D.P. per person, he wouldn’t have believed you.

“And if you told him that if that happened, there would be a great many people that would be struggling even though they were perfectly decent people willing to work 40 hours a week, he wouldn’t have believed that was possible either. And we’ve gotta think about that second problem.”

So while Buffett is as always bullish on America, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things for us to work on.

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