Not that my opinion of Warren Buffet matters, but I did lose respect for him after he endorsed higher taxes a few years ago. I thought he was a conservative, but turns out he’s a closet liberal. Lately he has been dismissive toward gold. Throughout his life, Mr. Buffet gave off the impression of great humility. He stayed living in his small home and avoided the trappings of wealth and celebrity. His astounding string of unbroken success has never been duplicated.
The recent hit movie Bohemian Rhapsody chronicles a more typical success trajectory. Rock musician Freddie Mercury went from rags to riches and then on to pridefulness and dissolution. Great success often leads to big egos and bad decisions. In fact, few things are as dangerous for mankind as the actions of people so arrogant and full of themselves they refuse advice. We only need to think of Hitler’s exulting and celebrating in 1940 as the French signed surrender documents. Soon after that his egomania led him to invade Russia which caused suffering on an unimaginable scale and brought about his death by suicide.
Even middling success causes most people to experience feelings of self-importance and egotism. Life’s ups and downs tend to erase this hubris while age and wisdom grow. Emerson put it this way, “There is always some leveling circumstance that puts down the overbearing, the strong, the rich, the fortunate, substantially on the ground with all others.”
According to Emerson, someone whose success at accumulating riches has caused the world to seek that person’s advice will eventually give bad advice. Someone who has always been right will be wrong. From top to bottom, stock market investors are a self-satisfied lot, even smug. Mr. Emerson would remind them that for everything that is given, something is taken. Or as he put it, “Every sweet hath its sour.”