Billionaire investor Warren Buffett on Saturday at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting highlighted the progress that the U.S. has made on gender and racial equality since the nation’s founding but acknowledged the country is “far, far, far from what we should be.”
Buffett included the discussion of the Declaration of Independence in a wide-ranging description of U.S. history that spanned from the colonial era through the Civil War, Great Depression, and today — which both praised the U.S for making good on the promise of its founding document and rebuked the country for not going far enough.
Buffett emphasized the persistence of the U.S. amid difficult periods in the nation’s history as the coronavirus outbreak continues to upend social and economic life for many Americans.
Buffett described the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, as an “aspirational document” and read a passage from the document by Thomas Jefferson that affirmed the “self-evident” right of all human beings to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Still, 14 years after the document was signed, in 1790, slaves made up 15% of the U.S. population, Buffett noted.
“When you say the word ‘self-evident,’ that sort of sounds like you’re saying any damn fool could recognize that,” Buffett says. “You could argue maybe a little bit about life and pursuit of happiness but I don’t see how in the world anybody can reconcile liberty with the idea that 15% of the population was enslaved.”
“It took us a long time to at least partially correct that,” he adds.
“We have worked toward those aspirations — we have a long way to go,” he says. “Never, ever bet against America.”
Gender and racial inequity remain a major concern in the business community today. While women occupy more seats on public company boards than they ever have before, they still only hold one in five of them, according to data from the research firm Equilar released last month.
At the executive level, women hold just 23% of C-suite positions; for women of color, that figure drops to 4%, a McKinsey & Company study found last year.
Buffett made the remarks from the CHI Health Center in downtown Omaha, Nebraska at a scaled-down, virtual version of the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. Exclusive coverage of the meeting on Yahoo Finance began at 4 p.m. ET on May 2.
Since 1965, Buffett has run Berkshire Hathaway, which owns over 60 companies, like Geico and Dairy Queen, plus minority stakes in Apple (AAPL), Coca-Cola (KO), among others. He holds a net worth of $72 billion, and has vowed to give away nearly all of it.
Buffett demonstrated the obstacles for women in attaining positions of power by describing how long it took for a female judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
After women received the right to vote in 1920, it took 61 years until the first woman, Sandra Day O’Connor, was appointed to the Supreme Court, Buffett says. Over those ensuing years, 33 men were appointed, he added.
“If that was entirely by chance, the odds against that, if you were flipping coins, is about 8 billion to one,” Buffett says.