There’s a fairly common Internet cycle that occurs these days like clockwork.
It works like this. There’s some new piece or news or an event that transpires. People share their positive or negative reaction to said event. Then things really heat up as the backlash to those original opinions kicks into high school gear and people inject themselves and their own opinions into the equation. Finally we have the backlash to the backlash and people start typing in ALL CAPS and feelings get hurt.
In the past few years I’ve noticed a growing number of people jumping on the backlash bandwagon against Warren Buffett every time his annual letter comes out or he holds his annual shareholder meeting.
I personally think that reading and re-reading Buffett’s annual letters provide a better education than any MBA program in the world. It’s five decades or so worth of knowledge and collective wisdom of arguably the greatest investor and capital allocator of all-time. But what about the fact that…
He’s a billionaire who doesn’t pay enough in taxes!
He doesn’t always practice what he preaches!
He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth!
He was lucky to be born when he was!
You don’t have to go all in to appreciate Buffett’s shared wisdom. A more nuanced position is probably warranted on all of this. If you’ve read the 832-page Buffett biography, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life*, you realize that Buffett isn’t perfect. He’s not going to win any father-of-the-year awards. When his kids were growing up he was so focused on investing and running his business interests that he didn’t come across as the most present parent. Not all of his business tactics have been perfect over the years.
Blind hero worship will almost always lead to disappointment these days because no one’s perfect. The majority of the best business people of all-time were fairly terrible people. I’ve read the Steve Jobs and Elon Musk biographies too. These are two of the great visionaries, innovators and businessmen of our time, but they were also huge jerks who you probably wouldn’t want to work for.
I understand why some may be tired of Buffett’s folksy routine, but it’s hard for some to accept that you can learn from Buffett’s ideas but not necessarily worship the ground he walks on. Cognitive dissonance is the theory that when people hold ideas that are inconsistent with one another it causes mental discomfort. And when our mind experiences discomfort we look to reduce it. I think that may be what goes on when someone like Buffett experiences so much backlash.
There’s also the fact that everyone would like to consider themselves a contrarian these days. And what better way to show that you’re not going along with the herd than throwing shade at the greatest investor of all-time who is quoted ad nauseam and adored by nearly all hardcore investors?
But maybe the backlash against Buffett is actually something he would get a kick out of. After all, Buffett’s annual letters over the year have basically spawned all of these contrarians.
My Favorite Warren Buffett Annual Shareholder Letter
*Snowball was probably my least favorite Buffett book. It was far too long and filled with way too many minor details that didn’t add much to his story.