“This country has been blessed by immigrants,” Warren Buffett said of the US, reminding his fellow citizens that for many, being American is merely an accident of birth—the result of winning the “ovarian lottery.”
Taking it one step further, he calculated his odds of his being born an American male at 80-to-1.
“I was born lucky,” the billionaire investor said at a joint appearance with Bill Gates in New York at Columbia University, where Buffett when to business school, on Jan. 27.
Those remarks came before US president Donald Trump’s executive order suspending travel for immigrants from seven nations, but their comments anticipated them. Immigrants have been vital to US innovation, Gates and Buffett agreed, with examples like Andy Grove, the late CEO of Intel, who was a refugee from Hungary.
Gates and Buffett have joined a number of high-profile US business leaders who have spoken out in defense of immigrants or against Trump’s executive order—Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz pledged to hire 10,000 refugees over five years; Google co-founder Sergey Brin, himself a former refugee, joined a protest at the San Francisco airport; and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein criticized the order in a letter to employees.
Immigrants have done more than just contribute to the US, Buffett also said. They have quite literally saved it.
One of the most significant acts in American history was the result of immigrants, he added, when Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, a Hungarian physicist, sent a letter (pdf) to US president Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 warning him that Nazi Germany was developing nuclear weapons. Einstein and Szilard were both Jewish refugees who had fled the Nazis earlier in the decade.
The letter spurred Roosevelt to launch the Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic bomb. “If it weren’t for those two immigrants, who knows if we’d be here,” Buffett said.
Because he believes every life has equal value, Buffett said he’s comfortable donating much of his fortune to projects overseas, despite criticism that he should be helping Americans. “You can improve the lives of a lot more people spending $1 billion elsewhere, than in US,” Buffett added.