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2018: Are Americans really more divided than ever?
BECKY QUICK: All right, this question comes from Dave Shane (PH). He says, “Warren, you are a big believer in the U.S. political system, the financial system, and in every American.
“You’ve said that regardless of who is president, the economy and the U.S. consumer will continue to prosper over the long run. All that said, do you believe that people in this country are more divided today than 50 years ago?
“Or is it just social media, and media in general, that blows this divide out of proportion? And if you do believe the divide has grown, what words of wisdom do you have to possibly help remedy it?”
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah, I would say this. Multiple times in my life, people have felt the country was more divided than ever.
And I’ve gone through periods where people I knew and admired thought that, because the other party was in power, that there never would be another election. That the Constitution would —
I’ve heard everything. Now, the interesting thing is this paper from 1942. Since then, there have been 14 American presidents, just since my young venture into the stock market at 11, I’ve lived under 14 of the 44 presidents the United States has had.
Now, they call Trump 45, but they count Grover Cleveland twice, so there’s really only been 44 presidents of the United States. And 14 of the 44 have been during this period when that $10,000 became 51 million.
Seven have been Republicans, seven have been Democrats. One has been assassinated, one has resigned under pressure.
It works, you know. It — if you’d told me at the start, you know, that you’d have a Cuban Missile Crisis, and you’ve have nuclear weapons, and you’d have a panic in 200 — a financial panic — and you’d have many recessions, and you’d have war in the streets in the late ’60s from a divided country, you’d say, “Why the hell are you buying stocks?”
And through it all, you know, America — in fits and starts — but America really, really moves ahead.
And we are always — we survived the Civil War. I mean, it — I hate to think of having to do it that way. But this country, in only less than three of my lifetimes —
If you go back three of my lifetimes, you go back 263 years, I guess, and Thomas Jefferson is 12 years old. And that’s just three — and there was nothing here.
You know, you’ve flown in from all over to Omaha today, and you flew over a country with more than 75 million owner-occupied homes, and 260 million vehicles, and great universities, and medical systems, and everything. And it’s all a net gain in less than three of my lifetimes.
So — and we’ve had these events since I started buying my first stock. This country really, really works. And it always will have lots of disagreements, and after every election you’ll have people feeling the world is coming to an end and, you know, “How could this happen?”
And I remember my future father-in-law in 1952, he wanted to have a talk with me before his daughter and I got married. So kind of reluctantly I sat down with him, and he said, “Warren,” he said, “there’s just one thing I want to tell you.” He said, “You’re going to fail.”
He said — (laughter) — you know, “The Democrats are going to get in,” you know, “they’re going to take over the country. And you’re going to fail, but don’t feel responsible for it because it’s not your fault.”
And he wanted to absolve me from this feeling that, while his daughter was starving to death, it was my fault. And — (laughter) — I kept buying stocks and doing a little bit better all the time. And, but —
And if the Republicans were in, it was OK, and it was because of them that I was doing well. And if they were out, forget it, it was all going to disappear and stuff.
I mean, I’ve seen a lot of American public opinion over the years. I’ve seen a lot of media commentary. I’ve seen the headlines. And when you get all through with it, this country has six times the per capita GDP growth — the GDP per capita — that it had when I was born.
One person’s lifetime, six-for-one change. Everybody in this room, essentially, is living better in multiple ways, than John D. Rockefeller Sr. was, who was the richest person, you know, in the world at that — during my early years. And we’re all living better than he could live.
So this is a remarkable, remarkable country, and we found something — (applause) — very special.
CHARLIE MUNGER: (Inaudible)
WARREN BUFFETT: I would love to be a baby being born in the United States today. Charlie. OK, Charlie, you give the other side of this.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well — (laughter) — there’s a tendency to think that our present politicians are much worse than any we had in the past. But we tend to forget how awful our politicians were in the past. I can — (Laughter)
I can remember a prominent senator [Roman Hruska] arguing with an absolute earnestness that mediocre people ought to have more representation on the United States Supreme Court.
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah. He came from Nebraska, incidentally.
CHARLIE MUNGER: He did. He came from Nebraska. (Laughter) So we’re not quite as bad as that yet.
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah. He succeeded my dad in the House of Representatives.