Yves here. I’m sure readers can add to this antidote to the pervasive Warren Buffett hagiography in American media. For instance, Buffett lavishes praise on the executives of Wells Fargo, when Wells engages in abusive servicing (see here and here for examples). So Buffett is part of the cohort that has held bank leaders as competent and deserving of their leadership roles, which serves to hide the fact that a big chunk of industry profits rests on predatory behavior, like gotcha terms in checking accounts and credit cards.
By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth
I think I’ve never understood the American – and international – fascination with money, with gathering wealth as the no. 1 priority in one’s life. What looks even stranger to me is the idolization of people who have a lot of money. Like these people are per definition smarter or better than others. It seems obvious that most of them are probably just more ruthless, that they have less scruples, and that their conscience is less likely to get in the way of their money and power goals.
America may idolize no-one more than Warren Buffett, the man who has propelled his fund, Berkshire Hathaway, into riches once deemed unimaginable. For most people, Buffett symbolizes what is great about American society and its economic system. For me, he’s the symbol of everything that’s going wrong.
Last week, Buffett announced a plan to merge a number of ‘food’ companies in a deal he set up with Brazilian 3G Capital. For some reason, they all have German names (I’m not sure why that is or what it means, if anything): Heinz, Kraft, Oscar Mayer. Reuters last week summed up a few of the ‘foods’ involved:
His move on Wednesday to inject Velveeta cheese, Jell-O, Lunchables, Oscar Mayer wieners, and Kool-Aid into his portfolio, stuffs an already amply supplied larder. The additions came from the acquisition of Kraft Foods Group Inc by H.J. Heinz Co, which is controlled by 3G Capital and Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. His larder already included everything from Burger King’s Triple Whopper burgers, Coca-Cola soft drinks and Tim Horton donuts to See’s Candies and Dairy Queen icecream Blizzards, as well as such Heinz brands as Tomato Ketchup, Ore-Ida fries, bagel bites and T.G.I. Friday’s mozzarella sticks.
Isn’t it curious to see that once people have more than enough to eat, they sort of make up for that by drastically lowering the quality of their food, like there’s some sort of balance that needs to be found? Give them more than plenty, and they’ll start using it to poison themselves.
The key term here, the one that tells you where this goes awry, is what in economics is called ‘externalities’. Something large industries are very good at circumventing. The larger the are, the better they get at it. Mostly this has to do with environmental destruction as a result of resource extraction, but the razing of large swaths of natural habitat for the construction of highways and suburbs that make people use more products provided by the oil industry, is a good example too. That and the direct effect these products have on people’s physical health.
Buffett, the supposed genius, can only do these deals because nobody demands anybody to pay for the externalities that arise as a result of Warren pushing crap posing as food upon the American people. And then when he’s done getting even richer off of poisoning your kids, he’ll donate billions to their well-being.
But in a better and wiser world, Warren should pay into the health care system right now, he should pay for the obesity and diabetes costs his ventures and investments are going to cause. And he should do so in advance, not just after the fact in some warped and distorted kind of philanthropy. Warren Buffett kills American kids for profit. Huge profits.
The ballooning waistlines of America can be traced back, in a very simple and straight line, to the sorts of ‘food’ that Buffett’s new conglomerate produces. That’s where type 2 diabetes comes from. This is not some vague future scare scenario, it’s here and it’s now. As someone in a poor black community said a few years back: ‘we’re raising a generation of blind amputees’.
And it’s of course not just Buffett, the poisoning and degradation of America’s food runs across and through industries, both vertically and horizontally. The insanity of corn syrup and processed food ranges from Monsanto to Cargill to McDo’s to a zillion other companies and products. Who, as an industry, have managed to keep any responsibility, let alone litigation, at bay.
Who would even dream of taking McDonald’s to court for poisoning American kids? In the present set-up, it would be an impossible and unwinnable case. But that’s not because the accusation is absurd or even far-fetched. It’s because the narrative is that, even if it could be proven, people still have the right to choose to eat what they want.
The companies get the profits, society at large gets the damage. It’s the ultimate form of the Tragedy of the Commons. If you allow people – and companies – to dump the negative consequences, and the costs, of their undertakings on the public, they will, and they can get very rich off of that.
Yeah, Warren has Coke and Utz Potato Stix for breakfast. What a great story… But does that mean he is too thick to understand what happens in America? Does he not see the bulging waistlines? Or is his own bottom line simply that much more important? Does Warren Buffett consider his own profits way more important than the future of America’s children?
You could be forgiven for thinking so, couldn’t you? Warren Buffett is revered all over the place, but in reality, he’s the schoolbook example of everything that’s wrong with America. That whole money before and over anything else (including people’s health and well-being) mentality.
It makes people stupid, and it makes for stupid people. And sick ones, too. It’s their own choice, though, and their own responsibility, advocates of the model will say. All the industry does is help them make that choice by bombarding them with endless feel-good ads. But is that really a good idea if and when it means the world’s health care systems threaten to implode because of it?
Like many other industries, Buffett’s crap-for-food enterprise would not nearly be as profitable (probably not even viable) if it were to be charged for the damage it does to society and the people living in it. That’s what’s wrong with the current American economic model, and Warren epitomizes this.
This Tragedy of the Commons abuse is so engrained in the economy that it’s hard to see how it can be changed. And that does not bode well for anyone except the Warren Buffetts profiteering from it.