Legendary investor and Berkshire Hathaway founder and CEO Warren Buffett said it’s high time companies stop acting as moral arbiters, social activists and SJWs — social justice warriors — and instead focus their efforts on their primary responsibility: making money for their shareholders.
This comes alongside the announcement that Berkshire Hathaway is pouring about $30 billion into wind turbines and infrastructure in Iowa. The plan, according to Buffett, is to turn the state into “the wind capital of the world, the Saudi Arabia of wind.”
Among the corporate consensus these days is a call to be “doing well by doing good,” with companies claiming — sincere or not — to want to be more socially active.
But the idea of turning Iowa into the wind capital of the world isn’t built out of some moral quest against fossil fuels for Buffett to impose his idea of “doing good” on society, not at all. For the Oracle of Omaha, its about doing what is best by his shareholders.
“We wouldn’t do (it) without the production tax credit we get,” Buffett told Financial Times.
Last year, Buffett also told the Financial Times it’s wrong for companies to impose their ideas of doing good in society because how do they know their idea of “doing good” is actually, well, good?
“It’s very hard to do. If you give me the 20 largest companies, I don’t know which of the 20 behaves the best, really. I’ve been a director of 20 publicly owned (companies) and I think it’s very hard to evaluate what they’re doing, it’s very, very hard. I like to eat candy. Is candy good for me or not? I don’t know.”
And let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that management at Berkshire Hathaway does in fact know what is best for society.
According to Buffett, it would be wrong to invest on that basis because the company is an agent of its shareholders, who may or may not share those same social and/or political beliefs.
“This is the shareholders’ money,” Buffett said. “Many corporate managers deplore governmental allocation of the taxpayer’s dollar, but embrace enthusiastically their own allocation of the shareholder’s dollar.”
Instead of companies acting as moral arbiters, Buffett says responsibility should fall to government policy, and that we shouldn’t blame capitalism, which he calls “absolutely a miracle,” for society’s failings, as is all the rage these days among the Bernie Sanders crowd.
He used Berkshire’s coal power plants to illustrate his point.
“If people want us to junk our coal plants, either our shareholders or the consumer is going to pay for it. You can argue that unfortunately the consumer pays for it, but then the trouble is they pay for it if they happen to live in the place where a utility has 50% (of their energy) coming from coal,” Buffett told FT. “If they happen to be in some other territory, they don’t pay for it. So there’s a cost to somebody … the question is how it gets absorbed, but overwhelmingly that has to be a governmental activity.” “
“The government has to play the part of modifying a market system.”
Fifty years ago, economist Milton Friedman said “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”
It seems Buffett agrees wholeheartedly.
Editor’s note: Do you prefer companies you invest in focus on making you the most money possible, or do you want them to be more “socially conscious,” even if that comes at the expense of profits? Can there be a happy medium between “doing good” and still making money? Share your thoughts below.