2010: What is the biggest challenge facing the U.S. economy relative to other countries?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hello, Mr. Buffett. Hello, Mr. Munger. My name’s Vern Cushenbery. I’m from Overland Park, Kansas.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the United States economy relative to other countries? And what are the implications of that with regard to investing globally over the next decade?
WARREN BUFFETT: Charlie? (Laughter)
CHARLIE MUNGER: Thank you for steering that easy problem to me. (Laughter)
I think the answer to that is that by and large we haven’t made our way in life by having great global allocations systems.
Berkshire’s attitude, generally, is to find things that seem sensible to us and to concentrate, to some extent, in those matters. And then let the world economy and the world’s currency fluctuations fluctuate as they will.
I do think we’d prefer some countries to others, and the more responsible the countries seem, the more comfortable we are. Wouldn’t you agree with that?
WARREN BUFFETT: Yeah. But we —
CHARLIE MUNGER: But beyond that, we can’t help you very much because we really don’t have a global allocation system at Berkshire, unless Warren is keeping it secret from me. (Laughter)
WARREN BUFFETT: Not that one. (Laughter)
We did not buy Burlington Northern with the idea of moving it to China or India or Brazil — (laughter) — and we love that. We love the fact that Burlington Northern is in the United States.
The biggest threat we have is some kind of a massive nuclear, chemical, or biological attack of one sort or another.
And if you would say what are the probabilities of that over a 50-year period, it’s pretty high. Over a one-year period, it’s very low.
But if you talk about whether the qualities that have led to the last 220 years of incredible progress, with a lot of hiccups, but incredible progress, you know, in the status of mankind that we’ve experienced in these two centuries compared to any two centuries you want to pick out in history, this country is remarkable and its system is remarkable.
And it does unleash human potential like has never been seen before.
This crowd here is not smarter than a similar crowd 200 years ago, and they don’t work harder.
But, boy, do they live differently. And they live differently because this system has enabled fairly ordinary people, over a period of time, to do extraordinary things. And that game isn’t over.
There is nothing that says we have come close, in my view, to the limits of what humans can achieve.
We probably don’t even know our own potential, any more than the people in 1790 knew their own potential. I mean, they thought it would be great if somebody finally came along with some farm tool that let them work 10 hours a day instead of 12 hours a day.
So I — there’s no reason — you know, I hope the rest of the world does well, and I think they will do well. And it is not a zero-sum game. If China and India do well, that does not mean we do worse; it may mean we do better.
So we are not — it’s not what they get is taking it away from us. But I would be perfectly content if Berkshire Hathaway were forced in some way to limit its investment to the opportunities available in the United States.
We would have plenty of opportunities. I’d rather have the whole world, obviously, in terms of opportunities, but there will be ample in this country. I would not run from the United States. OK. (Applause)