The Two Things Buffett Can’t Buy

‘…when you were younger you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But then you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you, and take you where you do not wish to go.’

—Jesus of Nazareth (John 21:18)

In an Irish bar on a Sunday evening…

‘Let me tell you the story…’ began a man at the bar.

‘They’re all dead now…so I can tell it…’

Still homeless

We are still homeless…wandering like a gypsy…blown from place to place like a dried-up leaf…

We find lodging where we can, close to where we need to be.

As usual, we spent the weekend working on our derelict cottage. We are working alone, so we are being especially careful not to have an industrial accident.

But it went smoothly. We got the roof framed up and ready for tin.

With a little luck, we will get the tin on next week. Then, safe from the rain, we’ll be able to work inside. And with more luck, we’ll be able to finish the cottage this year…and move on to other things in the years ahead.

When we were younger, we undertook these projects without considering how long they would take. It didn’t seem to matter. We would just keep at it until we got the job done. One foolhardy project took three years longer than expected. But what the heck; we had plenty of time.

Now, it is different.

‘I’ve had three hip replacements,’ said a neighbour.

‘You must have a unique body,’ we replied.

‘No…no…we only have two hips, just like everyone else. But we had one of them replaced twice. And we have a bad shoulder, too. We used to play a lot of sports…and work every day on the farm. But we just can’t do it anymore.’

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Time and love

Hips, shoulders, knees, brains — something is bound to go bad, sooner or later.

Warren Buffett was asked a good question at his celebrated confab in Omaha, this weekend.

‘What are the things that matter most to you,’ asked a woman in the audience.

Without hesitation, Buffett answered: ‘Time and love.

Love is what Mae West must have had in mind: ‘Too much of a good thing can be wonderful,’ she said.

Love is unique. It defies analysis. Even a genius like Buffett bows down before it. He can’t add it. Can’t measure it. Can’t increase it or stimulate it. He can’t have too much. But he can have too little.

Similarly, time is not something Buffett can control or manipulate. But at least he can understand it. He can follow it on the clock. He can see it passing away. He can figure out how it affects business plans, amortidation schedules, insurance liabilities, and rates of return.

A 5% return in a single year may be acceptable. Spread it over two years and it becomes only 2.5% — barely equal to inflation.

Time is a crucial element of every financial analysis. More important, it is what a man of his age is running out of. And so are we all.

Kitty’s house

After having worked all Sunday afternoon framing the roof, we retired to a bar for dinner. At 7pm, the place was already full of people. Young people. Old people. Families with small children.

There was a fire in the fireplace, with the flickering light reflected on the wood panelling and the noise of cheerful conversation coming from every table.

With no tables left available, we took a seat at the bar and ordered our dinner and a glass of Guinness. And before long, we were in conversation with other diners.

‘Oh…you’re fixing up Kitty’s house,’ said a bar-mate, putting two and two together. ‘I saw they were doing work on it…and I’d heard that an American had bought it.

‘It’s a tragic place, where you’ve rocked up,’ a man we judged to be about 80 years old, continued, and proceeded to tell us a story about time and love.

‘You’ve fallen into a place with history. I don’t mean the area. Of course, there is plenty of history here, too. I mean, your house. Your farm…There’s a lot of history there.’

That history revealed tomorrow…


Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance.

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