2020: The pandemic's Impact on health and the economy.
WARREN BUFFETT: Now what’s, of course, on everybody’s mind the last two months or so, is, you know, what — what’s going to be the situation in terms of health in the United States and what’s going to be the situation in terms of the economy in the United States in the months, and perhaps, the years to come.
And I don’t really have anything to add to your knowledge on health. I — in school I did okay in accounting, but I was a disaster in biology.
I — I’m learning about these various matters the same way you are. And I think, personally, I feel extraordinarily good about being able to listen to Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, who I’d never heard of a year ago. But I think we’re very, very fortunate as a country to have somebody at 79 years of age who appears to be able to work 24 hours a day, and keep a good humor about him, and communicate in a very, very straightforward manner about fairly complex subjects and tell you when he knows something and when he doesn’t know something.
So, I — I’m not going to talk about any political figures at all or politics generally this afternoon, but I do feel that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Fauci for educating and informing me — actually along with my friend Bill Gates — as to what’s going on. And I know I get — I get it from a straight shooter when I get that from either one of those. So, thank you, Dr. Fauci.
The — when this hit us — and as I sit here in this auditorium with 17 or 18-thousand empty seats — the last time I was here, it was absolutely packed. Creighton was playing Villanova. And there were 17- or 18-thousand, whatever it holds, it was full. And there wasn’t one person in that crowd — this was in January — there wasn’t one person in that crowd that didn’t think that March Madness wasn’t going to occur.
It’s been a flip of a switch in a huge way, in terms of national behavior, the national psyche. It’s dramatic.
And when we started on this journey, which we didn’t ask for, it seemed to me that it was an extraordinary wide variety of possibilities on both the health side and on the economic side.
I mean, it was — in other words — DEFCON 5 on one side and DEFCON 1 on the other side. And nobody really knows, of course, all the possibilities that there are, and they don’t know what probability factor to stick on them.
But in this particular situation, it did seem to me that there was an extraordinary range of things that could happen on the health side. And there was an extraordinary range in terms of the economy. And of course, they intersect and affect each other. So, they’re bouncing off each other as you go along.
And I would say again, I don’t — I don’t know anything you don’t know about health matters. But I do think the range of possibilities has narrowed down, somewhat, in that respect. We know we’re not getting a best case and we know we’re not getting the worst case.
The — the possibility, initially, of the virus was hard to evaluate and it’s still hard to evaluate. There’s a lot of things we’ve learned about it, and other things we know we don’t know. But at least we know what we don’t know. And some very smart people are working on it and we’re learning as we go along.
But the virus, obviously, has been very transmissible and it’s — but on the good side — it’s not — not that good — but it is not as lethal as it might have been.
We had a — we had a Spanish flu in 1918. And my dad and four siblings and his parents went through it. And they had a terrific story in the March 15th edition of the Omaha World-Herald, that you can go to omaha.com and look up. It’s also on the first page, I believe, of Google if you put in “Spanish flu Omaha.”
And during that particular time, in maybe four months or so, Omaha had 974, I believe, deaths. And that was a half of one percent of the population. And that figure wasn’t greatly different around the country.
So, if you think about half of 1 percent of the population now, you’re talking a million-7, or thereabouts, people who, unfortunately, in terms of the worst case, which does not appear to have impacted — I think you can almost rule it out it’s being as lethal as the Spanish flu was — but it’s very, very transmissible.
And of course, we have the problem we don’t know the denominator, in terms of exactly how many (inaudible) it is because we don’t know how many people have had it and didn’t know they had it.
But in any event, the range of probabilities on health have narrowed down somewhat.