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Buffett exclusive: trade, taxes, terror
Investment guru expounds on reforms in corporate America, trade deficit and terrorism against U.S.
May 5, 2005: 11:18 AM EDT
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The legendary investor shares his thoughts on terrorism, trade and his company's $40 billion in cash with CNN's Lou Dobbs.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The greatest threat facing mankind, according to Warren Buffett, is nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism.

In a rare interview on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" Wednesday, Buffett addressed that issue as well as America's trade deficit, corporate corruption reforms, taxes, Social Security and the growing inequality between the rich and poor.

"There's no question in my mind the number one problem of mankind is the spread of nuclear knowledge," said Buffett, 74, the world's second richest man and chairman of holding company Berkshire Hathaway. "It should be at the top of the list for our government."

Buffett, one of the world's most widely admired investors, recently footed the bill for a hypothetical nuclear doomsday movie called "Last Best Chance."

Buffett's comments, which touched on many of the same issues addressed during Saturday's six-hour shareholder meeting, included the current U.S. trade and budget deficits.

"We exported $1.1 trillion and imported over $1.7 trillion and we are running up obligations to the rest of the world and they are buying our assets at the rate of $2 billion per day and that will have consequences," he said.

"If we keep doing what we're doing now and show no sign of slowing down, the world will own a greater percentage of this country 10 years from now."

Buffett noted that the ballooning trade and budget deficits should be rectified before the President attempts to tackle Social Security reform. He also noted that he didn't understand why the President was spending so much time dealing with a problem so far down the road when the current budget deficit is four times the potential Social Security shortfall.

Known as a significant stakeholder in multiple corporations such as American Express (Research), Coca-Cola (Research) and most recently Anheuser-Busch (Research), Berkshire Hathaway currently sits on approximately $40 billion in cash. While Buffett is keeping mum about an insurance acquisition his company recently made, he indicated that there are very few other investment prospects worthy of his company's roughly $40 billion in cash.

"I just don't find things that are undervalued," he said, indicating that market securities or junk bonds might be potential investments for Berkshire Hathaway. "I'm not happy with 40 billion but one way or another I think we'll manage to invest it."

Shareholders shied away from confronting Buffett on the scandal surrounding General Re Corp. during their annual rendezvous, but Wednesday he said he supported the government's probe surrounding the insurance industry, including the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, following their dealings with American International Group (Research).

"We'll find out what has taken place. Some things that were actually legal a few years ago will probably be found to be distasteful. There will be things that are found that were probably be illegal. But there's nothing wrong with looking at the insurance industry," he said.

General Re, which Buffett snatched up in 1998 for $22 billion, has been linked to a federal investigation of AIG for manipulating earnings. Buffett met with regulators on April 12 to discuss General Re's dealings with AIG.

Buffett, worth $44 billion, advocated that a potential solution to the budget deficit is to increase taxes on corporations and the rich, like himself.

"Corporate America is not suffering, I'll put it that way," he said. "Corporations are doing better in the total tax picture than the people I'll walk by on the street out here."

Buffet would also increase taxes on the rich to pump cash into Social Security.

"I personally would increase the taxable base above the present ninety thousand. I pay very, very little in the way of social security taxes because I make a lot more than ninety thousand and the people in my office pay the full tax." said Buffett.

In fact, Buffet would forfeit all his social security benefits and believes that the rich should follow suit, "I get a check for $1,700 or $1900 or something every month, I'm 74, and I cash it but I'll eat without it." He continued, "The rich people would pay more, rich people are doing so well in this country - we've never had it so good."

Despite a seemingly pessimistic outlook on the trade and budget deficits, Buffett remained hopeful that economic and social glitches can be mended.

"I think it's a terrific country - you never want to go short on America," he said at the end of the interview session. "The threat is real but in this country our children and grandchildren are going to look better than we do - no question in my mind."

Are you lucky enough to own a share of Berkshire Hathaway (Research)? Click here (Research) or here (Research) to see how the company's stock performed Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Want to see who else is making headlines? Click here.

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Warren Buffett
International Trade
Berkshire Hathaway Incorporated
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