Once the rules of the game – and the methods of one’s opponents – are clearly understood, then potentially winning strategies can be forged.
The oriental philosopher military strategist Sun Tzu said similarly.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War, per Goodreads.
By accident, coincidence, or design Warren Buffett’s and Omaha based Berkshire Hathaway’s “follow the money” trail leads to some interesting places.
Some are obvious, other pass through the so-called “dark money” routes of various intermediaries.
In no particular order of importance:
- Clayton Homes (metro Knoxville, TN),
- 21st Mortgage (metro Knoxville, TN),
- Other Berkshire Hathaway (Omaha, NE) brands that are part of the Arlington, VA based Manufactured Housing Institute,
- Center for Public Integrity – (which with the Seattle Times broke the first exposes against Clayton Homes and their affiliated lenders)
- Tides Foundation,
- Prosperity Now,
- RV MH Hall of Fame,
- Next Step USA, and others.
The list could go on, but that is sufficient for now to make this point. Sone of these organizations may seem on the surface to at least periodically be opposed to each other. Why would Buffett fund his own opposition?
“Know the enemy [opponent, competition], and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War, per Goodreads.
Facts and conspiracy theories are often two different things. The reality is that with no two people – even twins – being completely alike, one must be open to the notion that in business, there can be wildy different strategies that a competitor or opponent of yours may be using than you would personally conceive of using yourself.
So, the opposition’s thinking and methods must be understood. Since that takes time, and many won’t or can’t invest that time, it gives the devious a potential advantage over the under-informed.
The Daily Business News on MHProNews has never alleged that Warren Buffett holds a conference call with the above groups and tells them what to do next. We would not claim there is some secret memo. The fact is, it is not necessary. All that is needed it to gather like minded people, or people whose behaviors are predictable, and then set them into motion with funding needed to accomplish their mission.
Buffett has no need to call and dictate policy. That’s not how he works, and he’s said so himself. He’s no micro-manager, he is an empowering delegator. Hire, buy, or fund the right subordinates and surrogates, and you can reliably predict what can be expected.
The leaders of those bulleted groups above need but fit a mold that Buffett approves of, and on the business side, he preaches being a tough competitor and building that company’s “Moat.”
A Concrete, Eye Opening Example
Buffett can fund candidates that approved of – for example – Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This he demonstrably did with then Senator Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yet Clayton Homes, 21st Mortgage, and MHI all battled against burdensome regulations imposed by the CFPB on the manufactured home industry.
Why would Buffett back a candidate that would arguably harm his business interests? Because his business interests could better deal with those challenging regulations, and smaller businesses would be less able to do so. By harnessing the power of government regulation, he can eliminate competitors, and at least potentially not be accused of some antitrust or other legal violation.
It’s brilliant, in a Sun Tzu world-view. The artificially created headwinds that came from the CFPB did indeed eliminate several competing lenders, retailers, and others. That left Clayton, 21st and other Berkshire brands that could withstand those headwinds to benefit. Machiavellian? Arguably, yes.
Thus, the ways that this seemingly odd coalition can contribute to building the Berkshire Moat could, in theory, be unknown to most of the participants. Doug Ryan at Prosperity Now may have been as clueless on the above as Richard ‘Dick’ Jennison or Lesli Gooch at MHI. At least they had plausible deniability up to the point that MHProNews began following the money trail and following the possible logic for such a stratagem.
As long as that bulleted seemingly odd coalition allows or creates headwinds that make business harder for smaller to mid-sized competitors, it’s a good day for Buffett, Berkshire and their brands interests.
Enduring Value of Berkshire Documents, Videos, and Prior Quotes
What makes the Kevin Clayton video interview touting Buffett and Berkshire in the report linked here so useful is that it’s unlikely he’d say some of those same things in a deposition for a civil or criminal case. Clayton, Williams, Buffett’s own words in that linked report – once unpacked – reveals amazing things, especially so when one looks at the political and non-profit connections they make.
It’s beyond dispute that Berkshire could have hired and funded the best multimedia campaign known to mankind, all to promote a proper understanding of manufactured housing. That in turn could send manufactured housing soaring to record heights. But Buffett and his lieutenants have not done so. Why not? He’s got the money, and Clayton said years ago they were ready to do just such a campaign.
One plausible answer is this. By depressing – or allowing and/or fostering headwinds – the manufactured home market by a combination of action and inaction, manufactured housing can be kept lower than it’s potential, and lower than it has historically had operated. That allows Buffett, Berkshire, and their brands or allies to grow their Moats at a bargain value. It is shamefully cunning, but then, Buffett himself has said that he doesn’t believe in God. If his statement of atheism is so, in his mind there is no heaven, no hell, and from that sort of world-view, what’s the risk to Buffett for posturing honor but behaving dishonorably?
The fact that it arguably hurts millions of manufactured home owners is apparently irrelevant to the Wizard of Omaha. The fact that thousands have been driven out of business, or sold out at a discount, are the purported goal. Part of the cunning involved is that it could all escape the obvious eyes of federal regulators, or plaintiffs’ attorneys. One would have to do years of research to begin to grasp the magnitude of how this could work.
Indeed, that’s what years of research and the application of Buffett’s own words suggest.
Let’s consider just two Buffett quotes, above and below.
That said, how does one beat such a system? How does one learn the lessons of Sun Tzu enough to foil this kind of cunning opponent?
Simple. By aligning the common interests of those who are impacted or harmed. By jiu-jitsu. Dictionary offers one of the following definitions, using alternative spelling of the term:
- jujitsu or jiu·jit·su: “the use of an opponent’s strengths or one’s own weaknesses to accomplish one’s goals…”
Buffett thinks long term. He doesn’t mind occasion setbacks, he expects them. Any platform that goes after him is likely akin to a mere pinprick, no big deal, so long as in time, it fades away from Buffett-World.
How does one beat Buffett, Clayton, 21st et al? Take the force of the opponents attacks, and let them point out the coalition and moves needed to defeat them. Do that, and you’ll have created the Ultimate Manufactured Housing Freedom Coalition.
Here is a possible outline of those who have been harmed by Omaha-Knoxville-Arlington’s Moat in Manufactured Housing.
Every independent manufactured home:
- All other products/services providers.
- PLUS, in addition to businesses, the normal allies of a business are its customers.
There are some 22 million people living in mobile or manufactured homes. Because their housing values have arguably been harmfully impacted by Buffett led Berkshire’s brands and affiliated non-profits, and you have the basis for an alliance – that once mobilized – even his billions would have a hard time beating.
That ultimate coalition could be made up of mobile and manufactured home owners, plus those businesses past or present whose values have been impacted are the natural allies against Buffett and the other mega-monopoly builders. Note, we’ve deliberately left some other possible coalition members, but the bullets above are enough to make the point for now.
What’s interesting is that this coalition also fits into various applications of antitrust law, RICO, or other existing federal (and certain state) statues. It fits into something actionable as well by a gutsy, visionary plaintiffs law-firm willing to take on contingency a class action suit that could make the tobacco cases look like chump change.
What’s fascinating is that such a case could prove easier than the tobacco case was.
The ultimate coalition wouldn’t require much of its individual members, and the rewards would easily outweigh the risk of being potentially targeted by a Berkshire brand or their surrogates.
Without such a coalition, let’s be candid. Draw out the current trend lines, and Berkshire and their fellow travelers will win. They need but wait for the next administration that holds the White House, Senate and the House that they can control.
As an example, in Delaware, resident groups sought a rent-control law, some years ago. The Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association (DMHOA) got what they wanted. But the DMHOA learned over time that what they wanted didn’t work as they wanted it to.
On the business side, the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) were foresightfully worked for years to get passed the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000, and later the Duty to Serve Manufactured Housing as part of HERA 2008. Getting a law passed in 21st Century America appears now to be only a step, because the next step is to get a law once passed into effect.
Independent businesses and consumers working together. They have an alignment of interests. They are both being harmed by uber-billionaires who are manipulating the system to their own benefits.
As a free enterprise lover, we believe in honestly earned money. We know that socialism isn’t the answer, it’s a dangerous delusion, and history has proved it to be a deadly delusion. The American Way from the outset has been to limit government, and to limit the monopoly power of big businesses. That tea that the rebels tossed into Boston harbor on December 16, 1773 was not only taxed, it was a monopoly sanctioned by the British crown.
We need such rebels to join forces today. Forget herding cats. There is a strong appeal to voluntarily join forces for both long-term survival, freedom, and the significant upside of success that such a group can enjoy.
That’s the ultimate coalition needed to beat Buffett are independent businesses and mobile/manufactured home (MH) owners. There can be marketplace victories, legal victories too.
With Clayton et al purportedly stuck throttling manufactured home performance for so many years, with the correct stratagems, they could hypothetically be surpassed in the marketplace, and combined with a vigorous legal component, they could be beaten at their own game.
Who says? Sun Tzu.
With no further adieu, start diving into the articles from the week that was, 3-24 to 3-31-2019.
What’s New from MHARR
What’s New on the Daily Business News from MHProNews
That’s Sunday morning’s weekly recap, where “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (News, commentary, and analysis.)
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By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHProNews.com.
Tony is the multiple award-winning managing member of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com.
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