Berkshire Hathaway 2018 Annual Meeting Audience Question # 16

Warren won’t let his political views affect how he invests Berkshire’s money

Warren Buffett:

Andrew?

Andrew Ross Sorkin:

OK, Warren. This question comes from a Berkshire shareholder who says they’ve been a shareholder for ten years. I should say this may be one of the most pointed questions I’ve ever received for you. So…

Warren Buffett:

But you elected to give it, though.

Andrew Ross Sorkin:

But I did.

The shareholder writes, “I have watched the movie every year at this meeting, when you testify in front of Congress on behalf of Salomon, as the symbol of what it means to have a moral compass. Investors are increasingly looking to invest in companies that are socially and morally responsible.”

“So I was disturbed when you were asked on CNBC about the role that business could play in sensible policies around the sales of guns.”

“You said you didn’t think business should have a role at all, and you wouldn’t impose your values on others. I was even more surprised when you said you’d be OK with Berkshire owning shares in gun manufacturers.”

“At this meeting years ago, you said you wouldn’t buy a tobacco company because of the social issues. The idea that Berkshire would associate with any company as long as it isn’t illegal seems at odds with everything I think you stand for. Please tell us you misspoke.”

Warren Buffett:

Well… let’s explore that a little.

Should it be just my view, or should it be the view of the owners of the company? So, if I decide to poll the owners of the company on a variety of political issues, and one of them being whether, you know, Berkshire Hathaway should support the NRA, I don’t… if a majority of the shareholders voted to do it, or if a majority of the board of directors voted to do it, I would… I wouldn’t… I would accept that.

I don’t think that the… my political views… I don’t think I put them in a blind trust at all when I take the job. And I… in the elections of 2016, I raised a lot of money. In my case, I raised it for Hillary. And I spoke out in various ways that were quite frank, but… I don’t think that I speak…

When I do that, I don’t think I’m speaking for Berkshire. I’m speaking as a private citizen. And I don’t think I have any business speaking for Berkshire. We have never… at the parent company level… we have never made a political contribution, you know…

And I don’t go to our suppliers. I don’t do anything of that sort where I raise money either for the school I went to, or for a political candidate I went to, or anything else.

And I don’t think that we should have a question on the GEICO policyholder form, “Are you an NRA member?” you know, and if you are, you just aren’t good enough for us, or something.

That… I think…

I do not believe in imposing my political opinions on the activities of our businesses.

And if you get to what companies are pure and which ones aren’t pure… I think it is very difficult to make that call. Thank you.

I think with that response, I’m almost afraid to call on Charlie. But go ahead, Charlie.

Charlie Munger:

Well, obviously, you do draw a limit, Warren…

Warren Buffett:

Yeah, we did.

Charlie Munger:

… in all kinds of thing…

Warren Buffett:

Yeah.

Charlie Munger:

… which are beneath us, even though they’re legal. But we don’t necessarily draw it perfectly because we’ve got some sort of supreme knowledge. We just do the best we can.

And certainly, we’re not going to ban all guns, surrounded by wild turkeys in Omaha.

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