CATHY BARON TAMRAZ: Greetings from San Diego, where we have just completed the Fortune Most Powerful Women’s Summit. I am Cathy Baron Tamraz, CEO of Business Wire, and I am here with the only male that is allowed into this conference and that is Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, which is also the parent company of Business Wire. Warren has graciously agreed to answer some questions today, and kick off a conference that Business Wire and Market Platform Dynamics are holding in New York City, to launch a new Web site about the payment industry callexd PYMNTS.com. We are really excited about this new portal, which will be a primary source of news for the payments industry. It will havebreaking news and regulatory news in the payment industry, new technology and new products.
Because the payment industry is so vital to the economy, we thought it would be relevant to talk to Warren and hear his views on the state of the economy and what we can do to revitalize it. So thank you, Warren, for speaking with us today and agreeing to be interviewed by me.
WARREN BUFFETT: You are my favorite interviewer!
CBT: Thank you very much. That’s on tape, by the way. So, the first question I have for you is about the near-term future of our economy. The last 12 months feels like a really bad dream. This year has been the year that shook the world. It’s been a year since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and it almost sent the economy over a cliff. We had the Bear Stearns fallout, Merrill Lynch sold to Bank of America, the AIG crisis, Fannie and Freddie falling under government control. It’s been a really difficult year. So, what do you think is going to happen now in the fourth quarter of 2009 and also in 2010?
WB: I am not sure about exact quarters or anything of the sort. Who knows about next week or next month? We made enormous progress since a year ago. We had a real panic. And if you didn’t panic, you didn’t understand what was going on. What happened in September and October of 2008 will particularly be remembered for a long, long time. And while the governmental authorities malign things sometimes, they fortunately did some very right things, very important things. They did them properly, and they kept us from going over the cliff. The fallout from that financial panic hit the regular economy in the fourth quarter like a ton of bricks. We are coming back from that. The patient really went into the emergency room and it won’t come out of the hospital entirely for a while.
There are things that have to be cured in the system, but this system works. If you look at this country, we have gone through the Great Depression, we have gone through world wars, we have gone through civil war, and we have progressed like no country in the world. We have the right system. It doesn’t avoid all the problems, but it overcomes all the problems.
CBT: Do you see consumer-spending increasing in the near term?
WB: No, and not for a while. I think people had an experience a year ago that they are not going to get over quickly. But the factories are there, the human potential is there, the system is there. It works over time. Your kids will live better than you and I live, and our grandchildren will live better than they do. This country moves forward.
If you take the 20th century, we had a Great Depression, world wars, a nuclear bomb, a flu epidemic. We had all these things, and at the end of the 20th century, the average American was living seven times better than at the start of the century. It’s amazing. The Dow Jones Average had gone from 66 to 11,400. So the country works, you don’t have to worry about that.