Warren Buffett tells Charlie Rose on PBS: 'I haven't seen as much economic fear in my adult lifetime':
[on the rescue plan] Well, I don't think it's perfect, but I don't know that I could draw one that's perfect. But I'd rather by approximately right than precisely wrong, and it would be precisely wrong to turn it down. We need -- we have a terrific economy -- it's like a great athlete that's had a cardiac arrest. It's flat on the floor, and the paramedics have arrived. And they shouldn't argue about whether they put the resuscitation equipment a quarter of an inch this way or a quarter of an inch this way, or they shouldn't start criticizing the patient, because he didn't have a blood pressure test or something like that. They should do what's needed right now. And I think they will. I think the Congress will do the right thing. I think that they've -- you know, they got into certain arguments and they start worrying about assessing blame, and there is a little demagoguery, but in the end, something this important, they'll do the right thing. So this really is an economic Pearl Harbor. That sounds melodramatic, but I've never used that phrase before. And this really is one
....I mean, the job is Pearl Harbor. And you better not spends weeks and weeks and weeks trying to assign blame or deciding on a complete plan for fighting the whole war, you know, and letting a committee decide where the battleships should go and all of that. You better spring into action with the best people you have.
Charlie Rose:You have never seen anything like this in your life.
Warren Buffett:No, I haven't....
Charlie Rose: You have talked about derivatives. Derivatives are, in part, at the core of this problem, yes?
Warren Buffett: AIG would be doing fine today. It was one of the ten largest companies in the United States in terms of market value, over 200 billion, the most respected insurer and everything in the world. If they never heard of the word derivatives, they'd be doing fine. They'd be going to work in the morning and they would have no troubles. But they -- they -- it was very easy to do, because it's very tempting to write numbers on little pieces of paper and you can report the profit you want to, and there is no limit on it. I mean there is no capital requirements to it or anything of the sort. And basically, I said there were possibly financial weapons of mass destruction, and they had them. They destroyed AIG. They certainly contributed to the destruction of Bear Sterns and Lehman. Although Lehman had other problems, too
....You know, you can lose leverage, and it's the only way a smart guy can go broke. If you owe money, you can't pay them out. You just pay for everything, you do smart things, you eventually get very rich. If you do smart things and use leverage and do one wrong thing along the way, it could wipe you out, because anything times zero is zero. But it's reinforcing when the people around you are doing it successfully, you're doing it successfully, and it's a lot like Cinderella at the ball. I mean you know at midnight everything is going to turn to pumpkins and mice; right? But if the evening goes along, I mean, you know, the guys look better all the time, the music sounds better, it's more and more fun, you think why the hell should I leave at quarter of 12. I'll leave at two minutes to 12. But the trouble is, there are no clocks on the wall. And everybody thinks they're going to leave at two minutes to 12....
Beware of geeks bearing formulas.
Read the full transcript here