The U.S. is in deeper trouble than I thought, if Warren Buffett is right. In proclaiming an “all-in wager on the economic future of the United States, Buffett just paid $44 billion for a 19th century technology platform, a railroad, that carries 20th century goods—coal, agriculture, imports from Asia, petroleum. This is a vision of an America mired in the past and in economic and political decline.
And Buffett just might be right. He has a great track record betting against innovation. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, is famous for investing in insurance companies and utilities, and avoiding high tech and innovative corporations. Its stock is up 84% over the past decade, while the S&P 500 is down by 18%.
I’m hoping that Buffett’s vision of the future is wrong. I’m hoping that a US economy based on making, not consuming, green, not carbon-centric, based on digital not metal network platforms, will drive economic growth and prosperity. I’m betting on innovation.
The purchase of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad may have one benefit lost on Buffett. A 19th century network platform that is a railroad may have new life in an energy-conscious 21st century economy. Railroads, as we all know, are among the most energy-efficient modes of mass transportation for goods and people. Updating that platform, making it even faster and cheaper, could help propel the U.S. into a very different kind of future than the one envisioned by Buffett. That would be a future where railroads shipped exports of innovation new products and capital goods that reduced carbon energy.
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