I get flack for saying [when I visit a college and give a speech], "This is a nice college, but the really great educator is McDonald's." They hate me for saying this and think I'm a slimy creature. But McDonald's hires people with bad work habits, trains them, and teaches them to come to work on time and have good work habits. I think a lot of what goes on there is better than at Harvard.
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.
I agree with Peter Drucker that the culture and legal systems of the United Statesare especially favorable to shareholder interests, compared to other interests and compared to most other countries. Indeed, there are many other countries where any good going to public shareholders has a very low priority and almost every other constituency stands higher in line.
Using [a stock's] volatility as a measure of risk is nuts. Risk to us is 1) the risk of permanent loss of capital, or 2) the risk of inadequate return. Some great businesses have very volatile returns - for example, See's [a candy company owned by Berkshire] usually loses money in two quarters of each year - and some terrible businesses can have steady results.
Our standard prescription for the know-nothing investor with a long-term time horizon is a no-load index fund. I think that works better than relying on your stock broker. The people who are telling you to do something else are all being paid by commissions or fees. The result is that while index fund investing is becoming more and more popular, by and large it's not the individual investors that are doing it. It's the institutions.
The Berkshire-style investors tend to be less diversified than other people. The academics have done a terrible disservice to intelligent investors by glorifying the idea of diversification. Because I just think the whole concept is literally almost insane. It emphasizes feeling good about not having your investment results depart very much from average investment results. But why would you get on the bandwagon like that if somebody didn't make you with a whip and a gun?
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