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Wall Street firm slammed the door on young Warren Buffett for religious reasons

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Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett

I’m reading a great book, What Goes Up: The Uncensored History of Modern Wall Street, by Eric J. Weiner, published in 2005. A lot of the uncensored history in Weiner’s oral history is his chronicle of the fall of the old patrician order on Wall Street and the rise of Jewish bankers and traders in the ’60s and ’70s.

A delicious anecdote involves maybe the greatest stockpicker of our time, Warren Buffett, who at 21 wanted nothing more than to work for the Wall Street firm of Graham Newman but was rejected because he was not Jewish.

The son of a Nebraska congressman, Buffett started dabbling in the stock market as a teenager. His life changed when he read The Intelligent Investor (1949) by Benjamin Graham. Buffett has called the book the best book ever written about the market. It advised studying the underlying value of companies and betting against the market’s swings. This theory has make Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway the greatest legend of modern American stockpicking.

When Buffett read that book, its author Benjamin Graham (1894-1976), a London-born Jew, was a professor at Columbia Business School and co-proprietor of Graham Newman, a small investment house on Wall Street.

Warren Buffett transferred from the University of Nebraska to Columbia Business School in order to study under Graham. But when he graduated and tried to work for Graham, the investor repeatedly put him off. For religious reasons. From Weiner’s book, of oral histories:

Tom Knapp (former analyst for Graham Newman):

Ben had a great reputation at Columbia for being a smart guy, and so when he decided to go to work on Wall Street he applied to several of the large firms. But they all turned him down. His belief was that it was because he was Jewish.

Irving Kahn (former analyst, Graham-Newman):

After he graduated [Columbia business school], Buffett came to Ben, but he wouldn’t hire him. He said he didn’t have enough experience. But Buffett kept after him. One day he said to Ben, “Mr. Graham, I’ll work for you for nothing.” He meant it, you know.

Tom Knapp:

Warren did offer to work for Graham for free, that’s absolutely true. But everyone at Graham-Newman was Jewish, from the top right down to the bottom. This was because Graham remembered how hard it was for a Jewish guy to get a job when he was trying to come to Wall Street. So Warren came in and offered to work for free. But Ben wasn’t about to break his philosophy on hiring. He told Warren no. And Warren went back to Omaha.

Roger Lowenstein (Buffet biographer)

Graham didn’t want Buffett to come to Wall Street to work for him because he wanted to save the positions in his firm for Jews, who had a hard time finding work on Wall Street. So Buffett went to work for his father for a little bit, and then he came back East to work for Graham.

Rejected in New York, Buffett worked in Omaha from 1951-1954.

Ben Graham finally hired Buffett in 1954. In this 1998 speech, Buffett said that he had “pestered” Graham during those years, and Graham relented.

Ultimately, Buffett became close to Graham, and named a child after him.

The story is a classic. It shows how the glass ceiling in American professions caused great bitterness among Jewish aspirants (Alan Dershowitz built his early career on such resentment).

It shows the power of Jewish kinship networks to shut out worthy applicants. And it shows why the glass ceiling broke. Because of Jewish success, because many non-Jews lacked prejudice and had no trouble working with Jews. Buffett was such a philo-semite he put Graham’s prejudice aside, and evidently helped to heal Graham.

I have often seen this process– the recognition of talent, regardless of the package, on all sides. It is why I believe in Jewish integration, not Jewish Marcus Garveyism (Zionism).

Thanks to Bruce Wolman.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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38 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther on March 16, 2012, 11:13 am

    Well, “we” still have athletics…..haha.

    sincerely,

    The Gentiles

    • Dan Crowther on March 16, 2012, 1:55 pm

      Where’s Mooser? I lob this softball up for him and…… nothing?

      • Mooser on March 16, 2012, 2:16 pm

        Jeez, Dan, don’t I have enough to do? I’m working my tuchas to the bone trying to redeem my parent’s generation of American Jews.
        And when I get done with that, I’ve got books and books of these S&H Green Stamps I can exchange for fabulous prizes!

      • Dan Crowther on March 16, 2012, 2:31 pm

        Fabulous prizes like a Brand New Soda Stream Jet Sodamaker??!? hahaha

      • G. Seauton on March 16, 2012, 11:38 pm

        S&H Green Stamps??? Boy, that takes me back.

  2. Chu on March 16, 2012, 11:40 am

    Below is a good quote from Marcus Garvey when they accused him of being a member of the KKK in 1922.
    “I regard the Klan, the Anglo-Saxon clubs and White American societies, as far as the Negro is concerned, as better friends of the race than all other groups of hypocritical whites put together. I like honesty and fair play. You may call me a Klansman if you will, but, potentially, every white man is a Klansman, as far as the Negro in competition with whites socially, economically and politically is concerned, and there is no use lying.”

    • Krauss on March 16, 2012, 1:37 pm

      Good catch. A man who was facing bigotry became a bigot himself.

      “Every white man is a potential Klasman”.

      As for the article.
      I think that the Jewish rise to power was ultimately a good thing. The downside was that the aggression needed for the shattering of the old order meant that Wall St, for instance, became much less benign and less focused on industrialism and more on fast money, creating complex securities and algorithms which could be understood if you had the mathematical ability and time, but in essence, did little for the economy than rob pension funds and gutter the middle class.

      Still, if you look at firms like Goldman Sachs, which were very Jewish and family-owned they were very much patrician and long-term too. The same is true of Paul Warburg and other great Jewish finaniciers who were also long-term industrialists. So I don’t think that this dictonomy between the WASPish ‘long term model’ and the Jewish ‘smart, but reckless quick buck culture’ is true when some people portray it.

      I think there is a case to be made that Wall St became more reckless as Jews started to gain an equal footing, but I think that was more a byeffect of vengance and the state of the situation. Remember that anti-Semitism was very real in the decades leading up to the 60s and 70s. That hardens people a lot. Makes them aggressive and at times, as the Ben Graham story shows, even mild bigots themselves.

      Still, today Goldman may have a Jewish CEO but it isn’t owned by Jews. A lot of hedge funds like Andreesen Horowitz are thoroughly mixed. Wall St and the London City financial district used to have a strict divide between the Gentiles/WASPs and the Jews. That’s no longer the case. I think both groups are better off because of that, as well as everyone who isn’t part of those two groups who are also starting to thrive on Wall St.

      This is why I think that the Jewish ascendancy, even if it brought a more aggressive(or even destructive) edge to Wall St in the coming decades, was a good thing ultimately; because it brought in meritocracy. Even Graham couldn’t ignore that in the end.

      And although Wall St may be reformed, we have Hollywood left where the reverse situation has been a fact of life and where nobody has dared mention a word because of fear of being acused as an anti-Semite! And we need more meritocracy in Hollywood too, and less recruitment based on blood.

      • Mooser on March 16, 2012, 2:20 pm

        Kraus, you’re my kind of guy! So officious, so pretentious, and so capable of completely missing the point. And there isn’t a goddam thing in the world you don’t know.
        Gosh, we’re so lucky to have you instructing us.

      • tree on March 16, 2012, 4:30 pm

        This is why I think that the Jewish ascendancy, even if it brought a more aggressive(or even destructive) edge to Wall St in the coming decades, was a good thing ultimately; because it brought in meritocracy.

        Good Lord. Did you really mean to say this? Jewish ascendancy brought in “meritocracy”? There was no “meritocracy” before? Just bumbling nepotistic gentile males? Jews broke down the barriers and personally encouraged and hired all those merited racial minorities and women that are now flooding Wall Street? Really? All the Jews hired on Wall Street were uniquely hired on merit alone?

        This sounds like silly tribal bragging to me. We’re so much better than everyone else, aren’t we? I’m sorry, Krauss. I enjoy many of your posts and find some of your comment quite thought provoking. But this one just lays a big stinky tribal egg.

      • tokyobk on March 16, 2012, 8:02 pm

        Hardly bumbling but yes, completely closed to Jews and the “white shoe” law firms as well. Firms like Paul Weiss came about similar to the firm that Buffet wanted to join and yes, as a fact, these firms which were set up for Jews that would not be hired in spite of talent at traditional firms were much more open to other minorities. I believe Lani Guinier’s father was one of the first non whites to be hired at PW.

        Maybe Jews overdo their role in desegregation but that segregation was no myth.

        What is also missing from the Buffet story is that some firms owned by Jews such as Lehman existed from before Wall Street (it was a cotton broker) and grew alongside segregated WASP firms, so they were not completely a reaction.

        I think the composition of the supreme court is interesting. Not a single WASP. All the justices are Catholic and Jewish, the people almost completely barred from the white shoe firms just a very short time ago.

      • Thomson Rutherford on March 16, 2012, 10:44 pm

        I think that the Jewish rise to power was ultimately a good thing.

        You didn’t do a very good job of explaining why, Krauss. Could it be that you think that simply because you are Jewish? Is a non-Jewish person likely to see it as you do?

        http://mondoweiss.net/2012/03/beinart-time-for-a-jewish-conversation-about-jewish-power-and-responsibility.html#comment-432842

  3. marc b. on March 16, 2012, 12:05 pm

    A lot of the uncensored history in Weiner’s oral history is his chronicle of the fall of the old patrician order on Wall Street and the rise of Jewish bankers and traders in the ’60s and ’70s.

    how does one square this statement with greg smith’s recent op-ed piece in the NYT? and this?

    http://cryptogon.com/?p=28076

  4. Boycott Israel on Campus on March 16, 2012, 12:12 pm

    Why can’t you people simply demand action against Israel? Like boycott resolutions? Like divestment resolutions?

    Why do you instead waste your time obsessing about Jews, Jews, Jews, Jews?

    Start acting like a human rights movement and leave the ethnic crap behind.

    • Mooser on March 16, 2012, 2:25 pm

      “Why do you instead waste your time obsessing about Jews, Jews, Jews, Jews?”

      Listen, pal, we may have a sugary civil-rights coating, but once you get past it, you reach the soft Jewy center. And you can suck on that for hours. We sure do.

      • Mooser on March 16, 2012, 2:30 pm

        “Start acting like a human rights movement and leave the ethnic crap behind.”

        There’s one thing you must understand, if you want to understand this particular segment of the anti-Zionist market: An inheritance is a gift, not an obligation. There is no law which says that assets must be passed on at death to any child, or even stay in the family at all.

      • annie on March 16, 2012, 2:41 pm

        oh heavens mooser!

      • Boycott Israel on Campus on March 16, 2012, 3:10 pm

        Arg!

        Mooser, as you’ve probably noticed, these hours (and years) of sucking on the J-word leaves no time to just march on the New York City Council and demand a boycott-Israel resolution.

        That would finally make BDS into something that exists in the real world, in the mass media.

      • on March 17, 2012, 7:29 am

        Mooser, it might have been unintentional, but you just told the truth.

  5. HRK on March 16, 2012, 12:32 pm

    I read an older biography on Buffet a while ago. Later, after reflecting on it (and perhaps some other articles I read), I recall thinking that Buffet was very “political” on the subject of ethnicity–very straight-laced and careful not to have his actions interpreted in any way as being ethnocentric. And I remember wondering if this was his genuine self or if he simply cared about getting rich so much that he wasn’t taking any chances, bending over backward to come across that way.

    Perhaps it is his genuine self. But that man definitely puts riches above just about everything else.

    • Thomson Rutherford on March 16, 2012, 2:26 pm

      HRK, what is Buffett’s ethnicity? Most ‘white’ Americans cannot be ethnocentric unless they strongly identify with some specific ethnic culture such as German, Irish, Jewish, French, Czech, etc. At least not in the ‘heartlands’ where Buffett (and I) came from. ‘Whiteness’ may in some questionable classifications be considered a ‘race’, but it is never properly considered an ethnicity.

      Do you think of non-specific ‘white’ Americans (because of our skin color) belonging to an ethnicity? I think the most that can be said is that we are part of a diverse American culture.

      • annie on March 16, 2012, 2:43 pm

        non-specific ‘white’ Americans
        we’re heinz 57s thomson. mutts

      • on March 16, 2012, 4:53 pm

        I don’t think of myself as a mutt.

      • NorthOfFortyNine on March 16, 2012, 9:44 pm

        >>we’re heinz 57s thomson. mutts

        We’re all mutts. To say otherwise is pretence. -N49.

      • on March 16, 2012, 11:22 pm

        speak for yourself. I am not a “mutt.” First, I’m a human being, not a dog;
        2nd, my parents are of the same ethnic, linguistic, and cultural background.

        “All Jews are zionists.” generalization; unacceptable
        “Jews control the US government.” generalization; unacceptable

        “We’re all mutts.” generalization; to reject the generalization is “pretence.” [sic]

      • HRK on March 16, 2012, 3:54 pm

        Honestly, I can’t remember exactly what event(s) written about in his biography made me think that, perhaps, he was (on some level) consciously sending signals that he was not anti-Semitic, not anti-black, etc. (–I suppose that’s what I meant by not ethnocentric–simply not anti-other). Perhaps part of what made me suspicious, too, was simply that he struck me as the type of person who lived for achieving financial greatness–the type of person who was very canny and who would make the right moves to ensure that nothing stood in his way or could thwart him from achieving his life-goal.

        (Incidentally, I wonder if he now feels it was all worth it.)

        But allow me to say that I really have no evidence of this–it was really just a feeling. He might be super genuine. Or–as is the case with such a large percentage of all of our actions–his motives might have been mixed. In the very least, I do think he was ethnically aware–aware of the landscape of ethnic loyalties.

        Do I think of non-specific “white” Americans belonging to an ethnicity? Yeah, I suppose you’re right–ethnicity doesn’t seem to encompass something as wide as the white category. Interesting how our brains automatically sort things out, though. We might speak of Hispanic Americans as being part of an ethnic group here in America, and the Hispanic category is also pretty wide. (Is that because Hispanics are still a minority here?) I suppose there’s some complicated rule underneath it all.

        I do think that white Americans have some things in common with one another–for starters, the fact that we’re not minorities here. I find it interesting that some people freak out at the suggestion that white Americans might consider themselves a group or a subculture. (You, by the way?)

        The SPLC tends to do this, as in “What do you mean, ‘white culture?'” –Which really gets my goat: It’s almost a (ahem, truth be told, Jewish) preemptive strike against future Nazi aggression. Ridiculous.

        One of these days perhaps I’ll see if Phil will print an essay I’m turning over in my mind about the religious beliefs of the gentile left. White is bad. If you repeat this mantra, you’re altruistic. The universe will reward you: you’ll drive a Jaguar (or, at worse, a late model Toyota), live in an upper-middle class neighborhood, and take excruciatingly difficult work sabbaticals in Italy.

      • Thomson Rutherford on March 16, 2012, 7:01 pm

        I do think that white Americans have some things in common with one another–for starters, the fact that we’re not minorities here.

        Texans tend to feel that we have something in common, too – and we are about 35% Hispanics and at least 12% Blacks, with a sizable Asian-American population thrown in as well.

        But I do agree that the main reason that most American ‘whites’ do not regard themselves as being ‘ethnic’ is because we are still a substantial majority. And, although ‘white’ Americans have derived from many distinct European ethnic cultures, the ‘melting pot’ meme really did apply here among ‘whites’.

        As I see it, for all of American history to this point, ‘white’ America served the role as ‘anchor’ for American society, in the same sense that the Bundesbank anchors the Euro System of national central banks making up the European Central Bank. But fifty or so years from now, when ‘white’ Americans are in a steadily-decreasing minority, they may begin to regard themselves as a single ethnic group in an American society ‘anchored’ by the Hispanic majority.

        On the other hand, maybe by then old ethnic identifications in America will have become so weak that an inexorably-expanding melting pot will create a single American national ‘ethnicity’ comparable to German, French, Japanese, etc.

  6. Pixel on March 16, 2012, 12:57 pm

    Sadly, rather than learning from their own feelings of impotence and humiliation how not to treat others, they turn around and do exactly the same thing.

    Ditto Israel/Palestine.

    Hardly the moral high ground.

  7. hughsansom on March 16, 2012, 1:35 pm

    There are many, many stories like this. Noam Chomsky went to MIT in the early or mid-60s because it was well-known then that Harvard wouldn’t hire Jews to faculty posts. Today the widely, quietly endorsed bigotry is anti-Arab.

    The flip side is a phenomenon repeats itself again and again in different variants — a false sense of security and superiority built on exclusion. The state universities became great in the late 19th century because they would teach subjects and allow departments that Harvard, Yale, etc., shunned — engineering, agriculture, ecology — all the “hands-on” stuff that was about to turn the US into the worlds economic and industrial titan.

    The general problem is close-knit cultures that thrive on “being part of the family” — loyalty means more than substance. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama suffer from the same narrow-minded, blind adherence to intellectual monoculture. Conservatives who oppose immigration do likewise. Right-wing Israelis, convinced that they have to remain “racially pure” in some twisted, 21st century sense do, too.

    On and on, turning and turning in the widening gyre.

  8. Mooser on March 16, 2012, 2:34 pm

    “I have often seen this process– the recognition of talent, regardless of the package, on all sides.”

    Yeah, but what about Jews like me? I’ve got all the unpleasant rough edges, aggresiveness and bad grooming, but not a speck of talent or education? I guess the best thing for me to do is put my faith in Zionism and Jewish leaders. They’ll take care of me!

    • Bumblebye on March 16, 2012, 8:23 pm

      No. Ask Mrs Mooser – she must see something there that you’ve missed!

  9. tree on March 16, 2012, 4:21 pm

    This:

    Ben had a great reputation at Columbia for being a smart guy, and so when he decided to go to work on Wall Street he applied to several of the large firms. But they all turned him down. His belief was that it was because he was Jewish.

    Does not really jibe with this:

    Graham, a star student, managed to get to Columbia University and, although offered a teaching post there after graduation, took a job as a chalker on Wall Street with Newburger, Henderson and Loeb. Before long, his natural intelligence won out when he began doing financial research for the firm and he became a partner in the firm. He was soon earning over $500,000 a year, a huge sum; not bad for a 25 year old.

    http://www.buffettsecrets.com/benjamin-graham-biography.htm

    So he got an entry level job right out of college and made his way up to partner within 5 years, at the ripe old age of 25, earning the equivalent of multiple millions in today’s terms. And still he was resentful? Sounds more like an excuse for his bias to me.

    I also think it overstates Jewish “lack of access” to Wall Street. There has always always considerable Jewish access to Wall Street, despite some discrimination or quotas that existed in the past. Nothing like the overt and significant discrimination against racial minorities and women in finance and Wall Street. And as we can see from Graham’s firm, there was also discrimination favoring Jews, at the expense of others.

    • Thomson Rutherford on March 16, 2012, 7:59 pm

      And as we can see from Graham’s firm, there was also discrimination favoring Jews, at the expense of others.

      Judging from the names of prominent people on Wall Street that I have seen mentioned in the NYT and WSJ over the years, I suspect that there is still widespread employment favoritism shown to Jews in our financial capital. Can one really posit that such predominance of a small minority is due to the putative ‘meritocracy’? Wall Street firms are said to recruit from well beyond the NYC area.

      And I agree with a comment above: I don’t think there has ever been a time in the last 150 years when Jews were actually under-represented on Wall Street.

  10. Carowhat on March 16, 2012, 6:36 pm

    “I do think that white Americans have some things in common with one another–for starters, the fact that we’re not minorities here.”

    Nowadays that depends on where you live. Here in Los Angeles, non-Hispanic whites are a mere 29% of the population. And even that percentage is dropping like a rock. As a result of our current nearly-open borders policy, differential immigrant fertility rates, and immigrant welfare availability, seventy-seven percent of the fourth graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District are Hispanic.

  11. proudzionist777 on March 16, 2012, 8:27 pm

    Uhh…so Ben Graham was practicing private sector affirmative action?

  12. Justice Please on March 17, 2012, 5:54 am

    “Warren Buffett, who at 21 wanted nothing more than to work for the Wall Street firm of Graham Newman but was rejected because he was not Jewish.”

    Funny how everybody knows about how racist white non-Jews can be, but only few people have heard about racist Jews.

  13. proudzionist777 on March 17, 2012, 9:35 am

    I would agree that Jews are a racist as anyone else, which than begs the question, ‘Why is Phil’s article newsworthy’?

    • annie on March 17, 2012, 9:51 am

      pz, it is newsworthy because it is the story of extraordinary talent, admiration, determination and friendship overcoming prejudice:

      Because of Jewish success, because many non-Jews lacked prejudice and had no trouble working with Jews. Buffett was such a philo-semite he put Graham’s prejudice aside, and evidently helped to heal Graham.

      I have often seen this process– the recognition of talent, regardless of the package, on all sides. It is why I believe in Jewish integration, not Jewish Marcus Garveyism (Zionism).

  14. PilgrimSoul on March 17, 2012, 9:21 pm

    Buffett and Graham, heard a garbled version of this story once, but I’m delighted to read the real story and seen the great documentation provided here. Healing is possible; strong-willed people who have tangible goals and a reasonable chance of reaching them won’t let religion get in the way. They’d be foolish if they did. The more I hear about Buffett, the more I like him.

    He came out of Presbyterian stock, I think, but wrote once that his faith had flown the coop. He’s continued as a kind of cultural Presbyterian, following a strong moral code in business and personal life. It may not be any accident that the PC (Presbyterian Church) has led the way with divestment. What a story about Graham and Buffett. That’s pure Americana…

    So are Mooser’s S&H Green Stamps, come to think of it. I always got a chuckle out of the fact that you didn’t cash the damn things in, you got them ‘redeemed.’ More evidence of our Protestant origins. Who was it that said the US passed from Protestantism to depravity without ever passing through civilization?? Think I got that quote wrong.

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