It has been a quiet day in Sandpoint. Alex and I slept late, as always, and then, while Alex was asleep, I made a huge rib roast. I had bought it a few days ago and been making my plans. Lemon pepper. Seasoned salt. (One of man’s great inventions.) Sliced onions. Preheated oven to 350 degrees. I slid it into the oven and a fantastic smell filled the condo.
Then I made immense Idaho baking potatoes, sliced outer space chives, and put the ensemble on the table. Ooops. Alex said she preferred to sleep longer than to eat bloody rare meat at the ungodly hour of 3 in the afternoon.
Never mind. I ate some and it was great. Alex soon came to her senses and wanted some, too.
Then, a long time reading about the taking of Baghdad by the army of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Maybe I have that date wrong. He was a bloody guy. He would have eaten that roast beef raw. Then a long read about the Paris Commune of 1871. I had not remembered until I read this piece in Military History magazine that the great boulevards and bridges of Paris had been designed and built largely under the militarily feckless Napoleon III. (Who had about as much to do with Napoleon I as a pig does with Sunday.)
The violence and butchery of the French Army headquartered at Versailles towards the Communards and their National Guard was blood curdling. (Blood again!) Anyone anywhere near the Communards was brutally murdered. The Communards were brutal to the Clerics and the conservatives, too, but on a far smaller scale than the behavior of the French Army — who had just been humiliated by the Prussians under Bismarck. They were in a foul mood.
Then an article in National Geographic about Genghis Khan and his uniquely large empire. He was a man of spectacular cruelty. Just immune to any sense of human kindness. Blood again.
I wondered what Genghis Khan got out of it. I guess he got to have sex with a lot of women and girls. Some immense proportion of the western and Asian people on this earth have some genetic trace of the mighty Khan.
But was he happy? As happy killing his enemies, raping his captives as I am lying in bed with my dog? As happy as I am lying in bed here and feeling the rumble of Mr. Buffett’s trains while my wife lies quietly sleeping nearby?
And by the way, have you told your wife today or your gf or your hubby or whoever it is how much you love him or her?
I thought as I lay in bed listening to the trains about how much the history of man is the history of evil and violence and blood — until capitalism came along. Capitalism made it possible to acquire vast empires without violence, with the adroit use of capital. (Of course, some capitalism involved owning other humans as capital. That was unspeakable. I am talking about financial capital, not slaves.)
I offer to you as exhibit A, my pal and idol, Warren Buffett. He started this world with excellent connections and a stupefying intellect and an ability to work breathtakingly hard and to see the essence of things quickly. Very quickly. He also liked money a lot, although not the things many people worship about money. Especially he did not care about the ability to buy things and people. He did not start out rich.
With this, with the good help of Charlie Munger, with perseverance and daring and incredible reservoirs of common sense, Mr. Buffett amassed an empire far more rewarding than Genghis Khan’s. He can basically have anything he wants. He is so happy with his work he tap dances to the office. He need not look over his shoulder at people trying to kill him to take over his empire. Indeed, everyone who knows him prays for his immortality.
Mr. Buffett is an amazingly smart man. But he has not invented a cure for cancer. He has not split the atom. He has used fairly basic principles to get to his station in life. With these principles and great intellect but not a cure for the common cold, Mr. Buffett has never had to use violence or chicanery to amass his empire.
I don’t agree with him politically on many key issues. But I look out the window of our home here in Idaho and all day and all night his trains run by and I am awed. They are immense beasts. And he owns about a third of them all by himself. This one guy who eats milkshakes and cheeseburgers from McDonald’s owns a third of an enormous railroad and that’s just a part of what he owns.
From the adroit deployment of capital. Not from fear. Not from butchery. This is reason enough to love capitalism. This is inspiring. Because every one of us can do in a much smaller way what Warren Buffett has done: use our brainpower to acquire and deploy financial capital intelligently so as to give us a small empire of our own. We don’t need to own locomotives (although you can own a tiny bit of them by buying stock in Berkshire-Hathaway). If we have the family and the people we love in our old car, and have some time to spend with them while our capital supports us, we are doing what Buffett has done.
Capitalism, American-style. We love it. Those trains. Those engines. That mighty empire. And no violence. This is a great system and let’s hope that there are enough people who want to gain from it to offset the people who want to destroy it out of envy. Let’s hope. Because it’s a whole different world when the government owns everything. Then those trains are frightening — not exciting. The history of achieving glory through capitalism is so much better than any other part of history that it’s no contest.
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