Tax Cuts Redux?
As the debate over the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts heats up in Washington, some of the world's richest men weighed in on the debate over taxes in exclusive interviews on "This Week with Christiane Amanpour."
Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, said that the rich should be paying more taxes and that the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy should be left to expire at the end of December.
"If anything, taxes for the lower and middle class and maybe even the upper middle class should even probably be cut further," Buffett said. "But I think that people at the high end -- people like myself -- should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it."
The billionaire brushed aside Republican arguments that letting tax cuts expire for the wealthy would hurt economic growth.
"They say you have to keep those tax cuts, even on the very wealthy, because that is what energizes business and capitalism," anchor Amanpour said.
"The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we'll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on," Buffett explained.
The Berkshire Hathaway CEO also insisted that the wealthy didn't sacrifice.
"There's no sacrifice among the rich," Buffett said. "There's plenty of sacrifice going on now. I mean, if you look at Iraq and now Afghanistan, there's been sacrifice. But I would doubt if you take the people on the Forbes 400 list -- whether many of them have a child or a grandchild that served in Iraq or Afghanistan -- they come home in body bags to Nebraska, but they don't have to call up anybody up at the country club to notify them," he said.
Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, weighed in on a failed ballot initiative spearheaded by his father, Bill Gates Sr., and others to raise taxes on the wealthiest residents of Washington State. Initiative1098, as the measure was known, was voted down on November 2.
"I voted yes and I was hoping that it would pass. But that's done now," Gates said.
Buffett: Feds did the Right Thing in 2008
Buffett said the U.S. government took the correct actions in September 2008 to avoid a cataclysmic financial collapse. He told Amanpour, "you go back to September of 2008, we faced a financial crisis like we've never faced, even including the Great Depression in terms of what was likely to happen within a month if action wasn't taken."
"So that was very, very, very real, and people did the right thing at that time, in my view, to head off something that would have caused us to go off the cliff," he said.
"The Oracle" and CNN founder on the Economy
Today Buffett, known as "The Oracle of Omaha" for his wise investment decisions, sees most economic indicators moving in the right direction.
"I'm in 70 some businesses at Berkshire so I get figures every day on what's going on. And, week by week, things are getting a little better," he said. "If you look at the year 2010 right straight through, our businesses have generally been on a mildly upward trajectory. Not the ones connected with homebuilding. But, if you take the other 70, they have gotten better."
Ted Turner, the entrepreneur founder of CNN, said that he saw things looking brighter for the U.S. economy.
"How would you advise kick-starting the economy today?" Amanpour asked him.
"I think stimulating it with borrowed money, probably -- and I don't like deficits either. I believe in balanced budgets and making a profit," he said.
"Do you see a way out of this?" Amanpour asked.
"Yes," Turner replied. "We're doing it right now. We're correcting things. We've already paid off $1 trillion of our debt in the last couple of years by not borrowing so much. We're cutting down on our borrowing and people are cutting down on their expenses," he said.
"But, you know," Turner explained, "prosperity will return. It always has and I think it will."
On another hot-button issue, the CNN founder rejected any plans to cut or "means-test" Social Security, which would give smaller payments to the wealthy. "I paid for Social Security. It's my own money I'm getting back," Turner said.
"Social Security, we get taxed for Social Security. That's like stealing our money for the government to cut back on Social Security, in my opinion. I think Social Security -- since you paid for it, it's yours and you're entitled to get it," he said.
Buffett on Todd Combs
Wall Street did a collective double-take when Buffett hired a little-known investor named Todd Combs in October to take over "a significant portion" of Berkshire Hathaway's investments. Combs, 39, is now considered a leading contender to take over managing much of Buffett's investments when the CEO retires.
Amanpour asked Buffett why he chose Combs.
"He's good," Buffett replied. "I mean, people thought, you know, maybe I should reach out for a big name, but I'd rather have a two-year-old Secretariat than a 10-year-old Seabiscuit. So I went with the Secretariat," he said, referring to the Triple Crown-winning horse.
And what about plans for the 80-year-old "Oracle of Omaha" to finally get out of the game -- does he have any plans to retire?
"No," Buffett said. "Not even after I die. I've got a Ouija board. The directors will keep in contact with me."