How should we interpret Warren Buffet’s plan to invest in Goldman Sachs?

I’ll admit I am way out of my area of expertise on this. I prefer to remain as ignorant of the goings-on of Wall Street as possible. But since Wall Street has made itself significantly more relevant to the day-to-day lives of average Americans over the past week or two, I’ve been paying more attention.

Needless to say (well, maybe not, since I’m saying it), I’m not incredibly enthusiastic about the plan to give $700 billion from the taxpayers to these fail(ed/ing) investment banks. It’s probably a better way to spend the money than the war in Iraq, but not by much. It certainly puts some perspective on Washington’s reluctance to invest in things that would actually improve the lives of the people who are footing the bill (roads, schools, healthcare, etc.).

Here’s something else that puts some perspective on it: according to an article in today’s New York Times, Warren Buffet, investor extraordinaire, is planning to invest $5 billion, via his Berkshire Hathaway company (which clearly has not wasted the money on its website), in Goldman Sachs, one of the ailing investment banks. Now as I see it, Buffet is trying to help salvage the situation, and (being a smart capitalist) he’s also making an investment he believes will pay off for his company. But I think there’s something deeper and perhaps even more altruistic than simply providing a cushion for Wall Street CEOs who are fearful that their golden parachutes might not fully deploy.

Buffet’s move looks, to me, like a lesson by example to other ultra-rich investors: you might just be able to fix this problem yourselves, without dragging the rest of us down with a poorly-reasoned public bailout, the effects of which remain to be seen but are likely to be even more disastrous and long-lasting than the crisis they’re designed to avert.

Update: Then again, never mind.