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The Compounding Interest of Social Progress: Warren Buffet and the Perennial Hope of Capitalism

Warren Buffet, the “Oracle of Omaha”, say social progress is accelerating—even if it doesn’t seem that way for some in the days after the Trump election.

Social progress in the next years looks stormy–but hopeful

Warren Buffet gives me hope in capitalism.

Buffett is undeniably one of the greatest business philosophers in history. He is also widely considered to be the most successful investor of the 20th century, with an estimated net worth of $66.4 billion, 99% of which he’s pledged to philanthropic causes.

And I haven’t been able to shake something he said in his recent, post Donald-gate, interview with CNN:

I don’t think anybody can grow our economy, in real terms, at four percent a year over time [which Trump has promised] … There may be a given year when that happens, but the math of it is just too extraordinary. If you simply grow our economy two percent a year—which we’ve been doing—you will have $19,000 more GDP per capita in one generation.

[Americans] don’t have to depend on four percent growth. They have to depend on better distribution of two percent growth.

Buffett goes on to say, “This country will be fine even if we elect the ‘wrong’ president.”

I love Buffett on economics of course, but there are implications in what he says for society too. No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, if you want the benefits of living in a multicultural, pluralistic nation—and there are many—you have to face the reality that progress in a democracy is often a slower process than you’d like.

For democratic party voters, that’s the real lesson of this election: some of us (Americans, not “conservatives”) weren’t—and may never be—ready for the rapid social changes of the last several decades.

Globalization. Same sex marriage. Abortion. A thoroughly secular public sphere.

I’m a social progressive. I don’t agree with any of that, but I understand that others struggle with those issues and that they vote for candidates that seem to take a more conservative approach.

We may not like it, and we should engage it with the tools available to us—public demonstration, debate, discussion of ideas, ridicule, satire—but we also need to learn to appreciate the swings of the pendulum that ensure even progress across the spectrum.

Because, in aggregate, things are improving. As Buffett says, we certainly need to focus on the distribution of those benefits, but things are getting better.

Hungry for more Food for Free Thought about social progress and change? Click here.

There’s evidence that social progress is compounding at an even faster rate over time. This infographic from Bloomberg illustrates.

Photo is by Mike Robinson at Tau Zero.