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In addition to political contributions over the years, Buffett endorsed and made campaign contributions to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. On July 2, 2008, Buffett attended a $28,500 per plate fundraiser for Obama’s campaign in Chicago. Buffett intimated that John McCain’s views on social justice were so far from his own that McCain would need a “lobotomy” for Buffett to change his endorsement. During the second 2008 U.S. presidential debate, McCain and Obama, after being asked first by presidential debate mediator Tom Brokaw, both mentioned Buffett as a possible future Secretary of the Treasury. Later, in the third and final presidential debate, Obama mentioned Buffett as a potential economic advisor. Buffett was also finance advisor to California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger during his 2003 election campaign.
On December 16, 2015, Buffett endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for president. On August 1, 2016, Buffett challenged Donald Trump to release his tax returns. On October 10, 2016, after another reference to him in the 2nd 2016 presidential debate, Buffet released his own tax return. He said he had paid $1.85 million in federal income taxes in 2015 on an adjusted gross income of $11.6 million, meaning he had an effective federal income tax rate of around 16 percent. Buffett also said he had made more than $2.8 billion worth of donations last year. Buffett said, “I have been audited by the IRS multiple times and am currently being audited. I have no problem in releasing my tax information while under audit. Neither would Mr. Trump — at least he would have no legal problem.” This was a measured response to Trump saying he was unable to release his tax information due to being under audit.
Warren Buffett’s writings include his annual reports and various articles. Buffett is recognized by communicators as a great story-teller, as evidenced by his annual letters to shareholders. He warned about the pernicious effects of inflation:
The arithmetic makes it plain that inflation is a far more devastating tax than anything that has been enacted by our legislatures. The inflation tax has a fantastic ability to simply consume capital. It makes no difference to a widow with her savings in a 5 percent passbook account whether she pays 100 percent income tax on her interest income during a period of zero inflation, or pays no income taxes during years of 5 percent inflation.— Buffett, Fortune (1977)
In his article “The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville”, Buffett rebutted the academic efficient-market hypothesis, that beating the S&P 500 was “pure chance”, by highlighting the results achieved by a number of students of the Graham and Dodd value investing school of thought. In addition to himself, Buffett named Walter J. Schloss, Tom Knapp, Ed Anderson (Tweedy, Brown Inc.), William J. Ruane (Sequoia Fund, Inc.), Charles Munger (Buffett’s own business partner at Berkshire), Rick Guerin (Pacific Partners, Ltd.), and Stan Perlmeter (Perlmeter Investments). In his November 1999 Fortune article, he warned of investors’ unrealistic expectations:
Let me summarize what I’ve been saying about the stock market: I think it’s very hard to come up with a persuasive case that equities will over the next 17 years perform anything like—anything like—they’ve performed in the past 17. If I had to pick the most probable return, from appreciation and dividends combined, that investors in aggregate—repeat, aggregate—would earn in a world of constant interest rates, 2% inflation, and those ever hurtful frictional costs, it would be 6%!— Buffett, Fortune (1999)
Buffett’s speeches are known for mixing business discussions with attempts at humor. Each year, Buffett presides over Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting in the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska, an event drawing over 20,000 visitors from both United States and abroad, giving it the nickname “Woodstock of Capitalism”. Berkshire’s annual reports and letters to shareholders, prepared by Buffett, frequently receive coverage by the financial media. Buffett’s writings are known for containing quotations from sources as varied as the Bible and Mae West, as well as advice in a folksy Midwestern style and numerous jokes.
Buffett described the health care reform under President Barack Obama as insufficient to deal with the costs of health care in the US, though he supports its aim of expanding health insurance coverage. Buffett compared health care costs to a tapeworm, saying that they compromise US economic competitiveness by increasing manufacturing costs. Buffett thinks health care costs should head towards 13 to 14% of GDP. (Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the CMS actuary has projected health care costs will reach almost 20% of GDP by 2020.) Buffett said “If you want the very best, I mean if you want to spend a million dollars to prolong your life 3 months in a coma or something then the US is probably the best”, but he also said that other countries spend much less and receive much more in health care value (visits, hospital beds, doctors and nurses per capita).
Buffett faults the incentives in the US medical industry, that payers reimburse doctors for procedures (fee-for-service) leading to unnecessary care (overutilization), instead of paying for results. He cited Atul Gawande’s 2009 article in the New Yorker as a useful consideration of US health care, with its documentation of unwarranted variation in Medicare expenditures between McAllen, Texas and El Paso, Texas. Buffett raised the problem of lobbying by the medical industry, saying that they are very focused on maintaining their income.
Buffett stated that he only paid 19% of his income for 2006 ($48.1 million) in total federal taxes (due to their source as dividends and capital gains, although the figure excluded the taxes on that income paid by the corporations that provided it), while his employees paid 33% of theirs, despite making much less money. “How can this be fair?” Buffett asked, regarding how little he pays in taxes compared to his employees. “How can this be right?” He also added, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” After Donald Trump accused him of taking “massive deductions,” Buffet countered, “I have copies of all 72 of my returns and none uses a carryforward.”
Buffett favors the inheritance tax, saying that repealing it would be like “choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics”. In 2007, Buffett testified before the Senate and urged them to preserve the estate tax so as to avoid a plutocracy. Some critics argued that Buffett (through Berkshire Hathaway) has a personal interest in the continuation of the estate tax, since Berkshire Hathaway benefited from the estate tax in past business dealings and had developed and marketed insurance policies to protect policy holders against future estate tax payments. Buffett believes government should not be in the business of gambling, or legalizing casinos, calling it a tax on ignorance.