Thursday, August 16, 2007

America's Burden

Consider a hypothetical but plausible scenario : A man and a woman are locked in holy matrimony. The marriage actually happened because the man in question is a powerful alpha male who possesed the woman, despite her wishes to the contrary. It is little wonder then that the marriage was an abusive one, the husband made the wife her slave, and regularly gave her deep physical and mental scars. The woman, despite such a horrible life, still was able to eke out a living largely because of the self-interest of the husband. A sworn enemy of the husband saw this as an opportunity. He was a more powerful alpha male , but he also proclaimed himself as a benevolent one. He did not care much about the woman but in fact was eager to get rid of the husband and so he claimed that he actually wishes to rescue the woman from such an abusive relationship and despite good advice against any hasty judgment, gets rid of the husband. So far so good, the story gets complicated when it turns out that the man who died had a number of other enemies who now want to ravage the woman and her children. The powerful victorious alpha male did not anticipate such a turn of events and is wondering whether he should just abandon the woman to her fate and take the exit. The question is -- is the man morally justified to take such a course of action? The answer is obviously an emphatic NO. It is clear who is who in this tale. The woman is Iraq, the husband is Saddam and the benevolent alpha male is America. The most powerful nation in the world, despite all the noises emanating from Washington, just can not abandon its moral responsibilities in Iraq. Iraq is a moral burden for America, it can not be wished away. Of course, people are known to short change morality when facing an adversity and I suspect that this is exactly what America wants to do, shed its responsibility and leave the poor woman to her fate. The story will not end there though, this country will no longer be able to seek a moral high ground for any of its actions and, however cliche it may sound, president Bush is right in saying that it will "embolden the enemy". No matter how bad it gets in Iraq, how much money it costs, how many americans have to pay with their lives for Bush's follies, Iraq is firmly America's responsibility-- they broke it and they have to fix it.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I am an avid admirer of Warren Buffett and his way of life. In addition to being the third richest man in the world, he is the biggest philanthropist the world has ever known and a delightful elocutonist of philosophy of economics, business and the business of life. A completely self-made man, his self-deprecating sense of humor rivals that of the best stand-up comedians in the show business. I had first heard about him back in India and gradually heard and read more about the man as I started to get more interested in finance and economics. I had the occasion to watch him give a speech, or more accurately- a performance, when he came to Georgia Tech as an invited speaker. I fondly remember a very entertaining afternoon when he had audiences in splits with his quips and wisecracks punctuated with his trademark pearls of business wisdom. Warren is known for his unpretentious, bucolic and a very humorous persona which immediately makes his audience drop their guard and drown in his charm. Behind that charm, however, lies a very astute businessman and investor whose grasp on finance and investing is simply peerless. He is famous for his firm understanding of even the minutest of business issues and such a memory for detail that he can reel off all the balance sheet information- from memory -of the companies he has ever bought or is planning to buy . Despite all his wealth and fame, he remains very humble and still lives in his birthplace Omaha in the house he bought about 50 years ago.

Here are a sample of some of his quips that I like and that have been delivered in his speeches and his immensely popular shareholder letters-

  • 'In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it's true. If you hire somebody without the first, you really want them to be dumb and lazy.'
  • Energy and drive may be the essential qualities for success in many other walks of life but in the business of investing they are likely to get you into trouble. Lethargy, bordering on sloth, should remain the cornerstone of an investment style.
  • What is popular is not necessarily good. Public opinion poll is no substitute for thought.
  • When a good manager tries to turn around a fundamentally bad business, quite often it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.
  • I like to hold stocks for the long term. My favourite holding period is forever.
  • Much success can be attributed to inactivity. Most investors cannot resist the temptation to constantly buy and sell.