Warren Buffett is often cited as a prime example of the wonders of free-market capitalism and the potential for "everyman" to roll modest investments into enormous wealth. A recent article in The Nation offers quite a different perspective:
This Nation investigation documents how Buffett’s massive wealth has actually been built: on monopoly power and the unfair advantages it provides. Companies in Buffett’s portfolio have extorted windfall profits, evaded US taxes, and abused customers. In the two specific cases discussed below, in the banking and high-tech industries, Buffett’s investments have prompted federal investigations for anticompetitive or other illegal practices...It's a well-researched indictment, and worth the read. For relevant background, see Investopedia's What is an economic moat?
Buffett makes no secret of his fondness for monopoly. He repeatedly highlights the key to his personal fortune: finding businesses surrounded by a monopoly moat, keeping competitors at bay. “[W]e think in terms of that moat and the ability to keep its width and its impossibility of being crossed,” Buffett told the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting in 2000. “We tell our managers we want the moat widened every year.”
America isn’t supposed to allow moats, much less reward them. Our economic system, we claim, is founded on free and fair competition. We have laws over a century old designed to break up concentrated industries, encouraging innovation and risk-taking. In other words, Buffett’s investment strategy should not legally be available, to him or anyone else.
Over the past 40 years, however, the United States has not only failed to build bridges across monopoly moats; it has stocked those moats with alligators. Two-thirds of all US industries were more concentrated in 2012 than in 1997, The Economist has documented. Since the Reagan era, the federal government has abandoned antitrust enforcement, with markets for products like eyeglasses, toothpaste, beef, and beer whittled down to a few suppliers. This consolidation has vastly inflated corporate profits, damaged workers and consumers, stunted economic growth, and supercharged economic inequality.