The words of billionaire investor Warren Buffett grace the op-ed page in today’s New York Times. Buffett’s stated aim is to offer thanks to the American government for bailing out the financial system two years ago. So far, financial pundits have rewarded Buffett’s efforts with parody and derision. But we wonder if perhaps the anti-Buffett verdict has been rendered too hastily.
In other words, was Warren Buffett being sarcastic?
Here’s the evidence. The op-ed’s title, “Pretty Good for Government Work,” is an inherently condescending and undermining choice of phrase. The cute decision to refer to the government as “Uncle Sam,” and then refer to himself as “Your grateful nephew” evokes a subtle tone of sardonic humility.
Also consider that the following sentence is directed at the U.S. government.
And when our citizens are losing trust by the hour in institutions they once revered, only you can restore calm.
There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. During the financial crisis, Buffett was presented with the chance to save AIG but declined. According to Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail, “You know, I don’t have as much money as I used to. … I’m kind of low on cash.” Buffett is probably genuinely grateful that AIG was not allowed to fail — and more grateful that he didn’t have to sink his own money into the troubled insurance behemoth. Plus, Buffett has a reputation for plainspokenness.
Even if our theory proves false, it’s still fun to imagine Warren Buffett saying in his charming Midwestern voice, “Hey America! Thanks for nothing,” his tone ringing with pure sarcasm.
mtaylor [at] observer.com | @mbrookstaylor