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Warren Buffett: Economy Needs Another Dose of Viagra

Warren Buffett is repeating his call for a second economic stimulus package, telling ABC News the first one passed earlier this year was excessively diluted by lawmakers' pet spending projects.

In a taped interview that aired today (Thursday) on Good Morning America, Buffett tells (former CNBCer) Bianna Golodryga:

"Our first stimulus bill ... was sort of like taking half a tablet of Viagra and having also a bunch of candy mixed in... as if everybody was putting in enough for their own constituents. It doesn't really quite have the wallop that might have been anticipated there."

Buffett hopes a second stimulus does not also get "watered down" by Congress and he cautions it won't be a "panacea" and will take time to work.

It's not the first time Buffett has been talking about more stimulus. On June 24 he told Bloomberg, "It looks like we're going to need more medicine, not less. We're going to have more unemployment. The recovery really hasn't got going."

In today's ABC interview, Buffett remains pessimistic about the short-term prospects for the U.S. economy: "We are not in a freefall, but we are not in a recovery either. We were in a freefall really in the last quarter of last year, starting in the financial markets and spreading to the economy, and we had this huge change in behavior. That change hasn't changed."

He says the nation's unemployment rate still "has a ways to go" before it tops out. But he is also optimistic that the U.S. economy will eventually rebound over a period of several years.

That short-term pessimism mixed with long-term bullishness is consistent with what Buffett told CNBC's Becky Quick in his "no green shoots" live interview just over three weeks ago.

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Here is the text of a video clip from the ABC News website showing portions of its interview with Buffett as it aired on GMA.

WARREN BUFFETT: Well, we’re not in a freefall, but we’re not in a recovery either. We were in a freefall, really, in the last quarter of last year. Starting in the financial markets and then spreading to the economy. And we had this huge change in (consumer) behavior. That change hasn’t changed.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, ABC NEWS: You’ve seen many recessions come and go. Has this one affected the consumer differently?

BUFFETT: Yeah. I think it has. I’ve never quite seen it happen like this. What happened was in September, in late September, the American public, they saw money market funds break the buck, they saw commercial paper stop, they saw all kinds of things that they hadn’t seen before. So there was a shock to the system.

GOLODRYGA: Judging just the unemployment rate, as I mentioned, we’re creeping much closer to 10 percent? Where do you see that number finally peaking?

BUFFETT: I don’t know where it will go to, but it’s got a ways to go. You can’t predict it exactly. But we, in our own businesses, we made a tough decision recently to let 500 people go in a company that employs less than 3000. We didn’t want to do it, and if we saw things coming back we wouldn’t do it.

GOLODRYGA: Would you be surprised to see that number hitting 11 percent?

BUFFETT: I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m not predicting it. That would not surprise me. I want to emphasize we’re going to come out of this better than ever. I mean, the best days of America, by far, lay ahead. But not next week or next month. I don’t know exactly when we’ll come out. But we will come out big time.

GOLODRYGA: Do you think the (Obama) administration jumped the gun by saying they’re starting to see green shoots, they’re starting to see signs of a recovery. We even saw Vice President Biden come on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos and said they may have misjudged the severity of the recession. Do you think they did?

BUFFETT: I’ve thought for some time that this is not going to be a short recession nor was it going to be a shallow one. What numbers they were seeing, I don’t know. But the numbers I was seeing told me this was going to be a very, very tough year.

GOLODRYGA: I want to talk about the stimulus. There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not we should have a second stimulus. (New York Times columnist) Paul Krugman has suggested that, some members of Congress have. Do you think we need a second stimulus?

BUFFETT: Well, I think that a second one may well be called for. Any stimulus acts with a delay, including the first one. It is not a panacea. A stimulus is the right thing. You hope it doesn’t get watered down in many ways. Our first stimulus bill, it seemed to me, was sort of like taking a half a tablet of Viagra and then having also a bunch of candy mixed in, you know, everybody was putting in things for their own constituencies. It doesn’t have really quite the wallop that might have been anticipated there. (Laughs.)

GOLODRYGA: During his campaign, obviously, he (President Obama) threw your name out a lot as a mentor and somebody he turned to for advice. How often do you speak to him now?

BUFFETT: Not often. (Laughs.) I speak when spoken to, I’ll put it that way.

GOLODRYGA: Does he call you?

BUFFETT: Not often. No. No.

GOLODRYGA: Do you think, looking back, TARP was worth it, TARP was needed?

BUFFETT: I don’t think it was done in a very sophisticated way. But I think anything that restored confidence was probably useful even if it had a fair amount of, you know, window dressing to it.

GOLODRYGA: What are your thoughts on how the public/private plan has gone so far?

BUFFETT: You know, so far, it’s just gotten pushed down the road further and further. I do not like the idea of any kind of a plan involving the government where Wall Street makes a lot of money. My plan provided they’d make no money whatsoever. The American people would make the money. I think Wall Street owes the American people one at this point.

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