Charlie Munger calls Elon Musk 'brilliant' and bitcoin 'stupid and immoral'

Charlie Munger had nothing but nice things to say about Elon Musk — and nothing but bad things to say about bitcoin, and he acknowledged that he had “mellowed” on Donald Trump. Munger also said he was “glad” we had a trade deficit with China.

I interviewed the outspoken Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman a day after the company’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.

Musk “swings for the fences”

Only hours after Tesla CEO Elon Musk trolled Berkshire Hathaway on Twitter (see below), Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime partner, called Musk “bold and brilliant,” though Munger conceded that he had no idea if Musk’s endeavors would succeed.

Regarding Tesla, Munger said, “It’s already created more significance than anybody had predicted. Its founder is bold and brilliant, and he swings for the fences. People like that get some remarkable results. Sometimes they get some quick failures. I haven’t the faintest idea how Elon Musk will turn out, but he has a considerable chance of success and considerable chance of failure. He seems to like it that way.”

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2018 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting
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2018 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, tours the exhibit hall at the company's annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, talks to a reporter in the exhibit hall at the company's annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, walks through the exhibit hall at the company's annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, walks through the exhibit hall at the company's annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A shareholder holds a drink posing with a cartoon Warren Buffett at the opening cocktail party for the Berkshire Hathaway Inc annual meeting, the largest in corporate America, in its hometown of Omaha, Nebraska U.S. May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Shareholders wait to the bar to open at the opening cocktail party for the Berkshire Hathaway Inc annual meeting, the largest in corporate America, in its hometown of Omaha, Nebraska U.S. May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Shareholders walk through the exhibit hall at the Berkshire Hathaway Inc annual meeting, the largest in corporate America, in its hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Shareholder Faye Meriwether fans herself with a fan with an image of Warren Buffett at the Berkshire Hathaway Inc annual meeting, the largest in corporate America, in its hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A worker arranges a display of t-shirts with images of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at the Berkshire Hathaway Inc annual meeting, the largest in corporate America, in its hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, talks to a reporter in the exhibit hall at the company's annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Microsoft founder Bill Gates laughs while playing bridge with Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, as part of the company annual meeting weekend in Omaha, Nebraska U.S. May 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Microsoft founder Bill Gates smiles while playing bridge with Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, as part of the company annual meeting weekend in Omaha, Nebraska U.S. May 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, plays bridge as part of the company annual meeting weekend in Omaha, Nebraska U.S. May 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, pauses while playing bridge as part of the company annual meeting weekend in Omaha, Nebraska U.S. May 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Warren Buffett (L), CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc, and Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire are seen on a screen at the company's annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc is seen on a screen at the company's annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 5, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Attendees walk past a photograph of Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., during a shareholders shopping day ahead of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Friday, May 4, 2018. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. investors should get ready for a bumpy ride. Warren Buffett's company is scheduled to report earnings Saturday morning before its annual meeting, and a new accounting rule could sink results. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An attendee stands for a photograph with a cardboard cutout of Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., at the Brooks Sports Inc. booth during a shareholders shopping day ahead of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Friday, May 4, 2018. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. investors should get ready for a bumpy ride. Buffett's company is scheduled to report earnings Saturday morning before its annual meeting, and a new accounting rule could sink results. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bernard Hees, chief executive officer of Kraft Heinz Co., center, speaks to a member of the media during a shareholders shopping day ahead of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Friday, May 4, 2018. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. investors should get ready for a bumpy ride. Warren Buffett's company is scheduled to report earnings Saturday morning before its annual meeting, and a new accounting rule could sink results. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., center, tours the shopping floor ahead of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Saturday, May 5, 2018. The rules, which require Berkshire to report unrealized gains or losses in equity investments in net income, helped fuel a $1.14 billion loss at Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in the first quarter. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees on the exhibit floor during the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Saturday, May 5, 2018. The rules, which require Berkshire to report unrealized gains or losses in equity investments in net income, helped fuel a $1.14 billion loss at Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in the first quarter. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Runners compete in the Berkshire Hathaway 'Invest In Yourself' 5K race, presented by Brooks Sports Inc., on the sidelines the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Sunday, May 6, 2018. Tens of thousands of investors descended on Omaha, Nebraska, over the weekend to hear Warren Buffett speak about business and the economy at the annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the conglomerate he's been building for five decades. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Warren Buffet, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., plays bridge at an event on the sidelines of the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Sunday, May 6, 2018. Buffett said he doesn't want Berkshire Hathaway Inc. being a leader on cyber insurance because neither he nor others in the industry really know the risk. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. Olympian Ariel Hsing plays table tennis at an event on the sidelines of the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Sunday, May 6, 2018. Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett said he doesn't want Berkshire Hathaway Inc. being a leader on cyber insurance because neither he nor others in the industry really know the risk. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bill Gates, billionaire and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, plays bridge at an event on the sidelines of the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., on Sunday, May 6, 2018. Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett said he doesn't want Berkshire Hathaway Inc. being a leader on cyber insurance because neither he nor others in the industry really know the risk. Photographer: David Williams/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Munger said he hadn’t heard that Musk had tweeted that he was going to start a candy company in response to Buffett’s comment, “I don’t think he’d [Musk] want to take us on in candy.”

“I didn’t hear that. Sounds like wise-assery,” Munger chuckled. “I can’t criticize anybody else for wise-assery.”

(This all followed conflicting statements by Buffett and Musk over a number of months on the efficacy and definition of “moats” in business. At the Berkshire meeting, Buffett suggested that See’s Candies has a competitive advantage, or moat.)

Berkshire in China?

On tariffs, Munger replied, “I wouldn’t want the entire U.S. steel industry to move off-shore. [But] I have an attitude that’s entirely different from our president’s. I’m glad we have a big trade deficit with China,” he said. “It enabled them to get out of poverty and obscurity. I welcome the Chinese to the group of advanced nations. I like what’s happened.”

As for Berkshire investing in China, Munger said, “I don’t think it’s likely we will buy some great Chinese companies. I think what is likely is that we will be invited to buy part of some great Chinese company, because they like the good company.”

Bitcoin is a “combination of dementia and immorality”

I asked Munger if we should dismiss bitcoin completely — and he savaged the cryptocurrency even more.

“The computer science behind bitcoin is a great triumph of the human mind,” Munger started. “They created a product that’s hard to create more of but not impossible. [But] I see an artificial speculative medium,” he said, in which people can sell it to someone else at a higher value with no intrinsic value behind it. It’s “anti-social, stupid and immoral,” he said.

“Immoral?” I asked him.

“Suppose you could make a lot of money trading freshly harvested baby brains. Would you do it?” Munger asked. “To me bitcoin is almost as bad.”

Anything else, Charlie?

“I regard the whole thing as a combination of dementia and immorality. I think the people pushing it are a disgrace. There ought to be some things that are beneath you, that you just don’t do, and this is one.”

[Read More: Why Bitcoin is ‘rat poison’ to Buffett and a ‘turd’ to Munger]

Why Munger has “mellowed” on Trump

Finally, I asked Munger about Trump and reminded him he had previously said that the president’s behavior exhibited a form of “sickness.”

“I’ve mellowed because I consider it counterproductive to hate as much as both parties now hate, and I have disciplined myself,” Munger said. “I now regard all politicians higher than I used to. I did that as a matter of self-preservation.”  He said that he had re-read “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” and it made him “feel a lot better about the current political scene. We’re way ahead of the Romans at the end.”

That’s a pretty low bar, I pointed out.

“It’s very helpful — I suggest you try it,” Munger replied. “Politicians are never so bad that you don’t live to want them back. There will come a time when the people who hate Trump will wish that he was back.”

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Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter.

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