Charlie Munger had nothing but nice things to say about Elon Musk — and nothing but bad things to say about bitcoin, and he acknowledged that he had “mellowed” on Donald Trump. Munger also said he was “glad” we had a trade deficit with China.
I interviewed the outspoken Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman a day after the company’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.
Musk “swings for the fences”
Only hours after Tesla CEO Elon Musk trolled Berkshire Hathaway on Twitter (see below), Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime partner, called Musk “bold and brilliant,” though Munger conceded that he had no idea if Musk’s endeavors would succeed.
Regarding Tesla, Munger said, “It’s already created more significance than anybody had predicted. Its founder is bold and brilliant, and he swings for the fences. People like that get some remarkable results. Sometimes they get some quick failures. I haven’t the faintest idea how Elon Musk will turn out, but he has a considerable chance of success and considerable chance of failure. He seems to like it that way.”
Munger said he hadn’t heard that Musk had tweeted that he was going to start a candy company in response to Buffett’s comment, “I don’t think he’d [Musk] want to take us on in candy.”
“I didn’t hear that. Sounds like wise-assery,” Munger chuckled. “I can’t criticize anybody else for wise-assery.”
(This all followed conflicting statements by Buffett and Musk over a number of months on the efficacy and definition of “moats” in business. At the Berkshire meeting, Buffett suggested that See’s Candies has a competitive advantage, or moat.)
Berkshire in China?
On tariffs, Munger replied, “I wouldn’t want the entire U.S. steel industry to move off-shore. [But] I have an attitude that’s entirely different from our president’s. I’m glad we have a big trade deficit with China,” he said. “It enabled them to get out of poverty and obscurity. I welcome the Chinese to the group of advanced nations. I like what’s happened.”
As for Berkshire investing in China, Munger said, “I don’t think it’s likely we will buy some great Chinese companies. I think what is likely is that we will be invited to buy part of some great Chinese company, because they like the good company.”
Bitcoin is a “combination of dementia and immorality”
I asked Munger if we should dismiss bitcoin completely — and he savaged the cryptocurrency even more.
“The computer science behind bitcoin is a great triumph of the human mind,” Munger started. “They created a product that’s hard to create more of but not impossible. [But] I see an artificial speculative medium,” he said, in which people can sell it to someone else at a higher value with no intrinsic value behind it. It’s “anti-social, stupid and immoral,” he said.
“Immoral?” I asked him.
“Suppose you could make a lot of money trading freshly harvested baby brains. Would you do it?” Munger asked. “To me bitcoin is almost as bad.”
Anything else, Charlie?
“I regard the whole thing as a combination of dementia and immorality. I think the people pushing it are a disgrace. There ought to be some things that are beneath you, that you just don’t do, and this is one.”
Why Munger has “mellowed” on Trump
Finally, I asked Munger about Trump and reminded him he had previously said that the president’s behavior exhibited a form of “sickness.”
“I’ve mellowed because I consider it counterproductive to hate as much as both parties now hate, and I have disciplined myself,” Munger said. “I now regard all politicians higher than I used to. I did that as a matter of self-preservation.” He said that he had re-read “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” and it made him “feel a lot better about the current political scene. We’re way ahead of the Romans at the end.”
That’s a pretty low bar, I pointed out.
“It’s very helpful — I suggest you try it,” Munger replied. “Politicians are never so bad that you don’t live to want them back. There will come a time when the people who hate Trump will wish that he was back.”
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter.