I’d say that Berkshire Hathaway’s system is adapting to the nature of the investment problem as it really is. We’ve really made the money out of high quality businesses. In some cases, we bought the whole business. And in some cases, we just bought a big block of stock. But when you analyze what happened, the big money’s been made in the high quality businesses. And most of the other people who’ve made a lot of money have done so in high quality businesses.
There’s no way that you can live an adequate life without many mistakes. In fact, one trick in life is to get so you can handle mistakes. Failure to handle psychological denial is a common way for people to go broke.
The number one idea is to view a stock as an ownership of the business and to judge the staying quality of the business in terms of its competitive advantage. Look for more value in terms of discounted future cash-flow than you are paying for. Move only when you have an advantage.
Over many decades, our usual practice is that if something we like goes down, we buy more and more. Sometimes something happens, you realize you’re wrong, and you get out. But if you develop correct confidence in your judgment, buy more and take advantage of stock prices.
Our experience tends to confirm a long-held notion that being prepared, on a few occasions in a lifetime, to act promptly in scale, in doing some simple and logical thing, will often dramatically improve the financial results of that lifetime.
Ben Franklin and Samuel Johnson, he credits their wisdom for his success. "They were both utterly brilliant men. And powerful communicators. Both have helped me all the way through life. Their lessons are easy to assimilate."
The ethical rule is from Samuel Johnson who believed that maintenance of easily removable ignorance by a responsible office holder was treacherous malfeasance in meeting moral obligation. The prudential rule is that underlying the old Warner & Swasey advertisement for machine tools: "The man who needs a new machine tool, and hasn't bought it, is already paying for it". The Warner & Swasey rule also applies, I believe, to thinking tools. If you don't have the right thinking tools, you, and the people you seek to help, are already suffering from your easily removable ignorance.
Economic systems work better when there's an extreme reliability ethos. And the traditional way to get a reliability ethos, at least in past generations in America, was through religion. The religions instilled guilt. ... And this guilt, derived from religion, has been a huge driver of a reliability ethos, which has been very helpful to economic outcomes for man.
The interesting thing about it to me is the mindset. With all these "helpers" running around, they talk about doing deals. We talk about welcoming partners. The guy doing deals, he wants to do a deal and then unwind it in the near future. It's totally opposite for us. We like to build lasting relationships. I think our system will work better in the long term than flipping deals. I think there are so many of them [helpers] that they'll get in ea h other's way. I don't think they'll make enough money to meet their expectations, by flipping, flipping,... Read more »
I think it is undeniably true that the human brain must work in models. The trick is to have your brain work better than the other person's brain because it understands the most fundamental models- ones that will do most work per unit.
...the cost of being a publicly traded stock has gone way, way up. It doesn't make sense for a little company to be public anymore. A lot of little companies are going private to be rid of these burdensome requirements....
And your brain doesn't naturally know how to think the way Zeckhauser knows how to play bridge. "for example," people do not react symmetrically to loss and gain. Well maybe a great bridge player like Zeckhauser does, but that's a trained response. Ordinary people, subconsciously affected by their inborn tendencies...
To us, investing is the equivalent of going out and betting against the pari-mutuel system. We look for a horse with one chance in two of winning, and that pays three to one. In other words, we're looking for a mispriced gamble. That's what investing is, and you have to know enough to know whether the gamble is mispriced.
You could argue that [the decline of public schools] is one of the major disasters in our lifetimes. We took one of the greatest successes in the history of the earth and turned it into one of the greatest disasters in the history of the earth.
Accounting is a big subject and there are huge forces in play. The entire momentum of existing thinking and existing custom is in a direction that allows terrible follies to happen, and the terrible follies have terrible consequences.
Mutual funds charge 2% per year and then brokers switch people between funds, costing another 3-4 percentage points. The poor guy in the general public is getting a terrible product from the professionals. I think it's disgusting. It's much better to be part of a system that delivers value to the people who buy the product. But if it makes money, we tend to do it in this country.
The cash register did more for human morality than the Congregational Church. It was a really powerful phenomenon to make an economic system work better, just as, in reverse, a system that can be easily defrauded ruins a civilization. A system that's very hard to defraud, like a cash register, helped the economic performance of a civilization by reducing vice, but very few people within economics talk about it in those terms.
Berkshire's whole record has been achieved without paying one ounce of attention to the efficient market theory in its hard form. And not one ounce of attention to the descendants of that idea, which came out of academic economics and went into corporate finance and morphed into such obscenities as the capital asset pricing model, which we also paid no attention to. I think you'd have to believe in the tooth fairy to believe that you could easily outperform the market by seven-percentage points per annum just by investing in high volatility stocks.
Failure to handle psychological denial is a common way for people to go broke. You've made an enormous commitment to something.You've poured effort and money in. And the more you put in, the more that the whole consistency principle makes you think.
I think we have some special talents. That being said, I think it's dangerous to rely on special talents - it's better to own lots of monopolistic businesses with unregulated prices. But that's not the world today. We have made money exercising our talents and will continue to do so.
You have to know accounting. It's the language of practical business life. It was a very useful thing to deliver to civilization. I've heard it came to civilization through Venice which of course was once the great commercial power in the Mediterranean. However, double entry bookkeeping was a hell of an invention.
You must know the big ideas in the big disciplines, and use them routinely - all of them, not just a few. Most people are trained in one model - economics, for example - and try to solve all problems in one way. You know the old saying: to the man with a hammer, the world looks like a nail. This is a dumb way of handling problems.