EXCERPTS and IMAGES: Warren Buffett & Bill Gates - Keeping America Great

David Goldman/CNBC

These are excerpts from the unofficial transcript of CNBC's town hall interview today (Thursday) with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates from Columbia Business School in New York City, as released by CNBC.

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates: Keeping America Great, a 90-minute CNBC Town Hall Event hosted by Becky Quick, airs tonight (Thursday) on CNBC television at 9p and 12:30a ET.

Buffett on Controlling Systemic Risk

Going forward, it's a very tricky thing to figure out how to present excessive leverage, how to prevent off balance sheet arrangements from getting in trouble, or for just having people at the top of major institutions that run risks that they shouldn't be running. We're wrestling with that right now. There should be more downside to the head of any institution that has to go to the federal government to be saved for reasons of the greater society and so far we've been better at carrots and sticks in rewarding CEOs at the top, but I think some more sticks are called for.


Gates on Capitalism

This country still has the best universities, the best science and we're going to tune our system of capitalism. The idea that you have a lot of short-term loans, covering long-term needs, the amount of leverage that was there. There are definitely some lessons, but the fundamentals of the system, a marketplace driven system where we invest in education, in a great infrastructure for the long term, that's continued.


Buffett on Goldman Sachs

I had more confidence in both the numbers and the management of Goldman Sachs , than any other major firm on Wall Street at the time (Berkshire made its $5 billion investment in Goldman last fall.) Now, there could've been things happen that would've made Goldman Sachs be next in line. (Goldman CEO) Lloyd Blankfein has said, 'We're 30 seconds behind Morgan Stanley.' This is covered very well in a book by Andrew Ross Sorkin, but I did not think the system was going to go under. I felt Washington in the end would do the right things and I felt if they did the right thing. Goldman Sachs, I thought it was the best-run operation. I thought its figures were the most solid and I thought they would prosper the most in the future ahead


Gates on Investing in the Future

Industries do have different paces of innovation and so does the IT industry, driven by the magic of software, the magic of the optic fiber, magic of the chip, which doubles in power every couple years. It's been the industry that not only has been the most exciting, it's also changed the rules for many other industries. You know the idea of information being available, what the online world is like. That's incredible. I'd say there are a few other industries that will compete for being exciting for the decades ahead. The energy business, some approach will provide cheaper energy that's environmentally friendly and there's a lot of science, a lot of business, it's a global thing. They'll be some great careers there. Medicine, you know, we haven't solved Parkinson's or Alzheimer's or about 20 diseases of these poor countries and yet, we can be sure that we're on track to do that. And so those 3 industries, I think, you would do great in.


Buffett on Berkshire's Acquisition of Burlington Northern

We start out with a premise and I can't think of a more sound premise, that there will be more people in this country 10, 20, 30 years from now. They'll be moving more and more goods back and forth to each other and you have the most environmentally friendly and the most cost efficient way of doing that on the railroads. The Burlington Northern last year moved, on average, it moved a ton of freight 470 miles on 1 gallon of diesel. You know that is far, far more efficient than what takes place over the highways. You have a situation where overall they use a third less fuel, they put far less pollutants into the atmosphere than trucks will. One train will supplant 280 trucks or so on the road.

So, the rails are in tune with the future and there's, I like the West, I like the 30-some thousand miles that Burlington has and if this country has a poor future, rails have a poor future and I'm willing to bet a lot of money that, 34 billion to be specific, that 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now, there'll be more and more moved by rail and it will be better for the country and it will be better for the shareholders at Burlington Northern.


Gates on Google

They're hiring a lot of smart people. They got into the lead position in search, which is incredibly profitable, to be number one in that. They may get a little competition as time goes forward, but they're a great example of what can happen. You know, 2 young guys who got together, pursued an idea and created a success that's absolutely gigantic and we all, uh, hopefully use search engines, hopefully a variety, and we benefit from that.



Buffett on Gates

What I really most admire about Bill is the view he has about what he should do with the wealth he's accumulated. I mean, as he said, he was very lucky, he was born in the right country at the right time, with the right wiring and all of that sort of thing. But in the end he knows he's the beneficiary of a terrific society and not everybody gets the long straws, like he and I did, so he is, and he has this view that every human life worldwide is the equivalent of every other human life and he's backing it up, not only with money but he's backing it up with his time. And his wife Melinda is backing it up with her time, and they are really going to spend the last half of their lives or so using both money, talent, energy, imagination, all to improving the lives of six and a half billion people around the world and that's what I admire the most.

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates: Keeping America Great, a 90-minute CNBC Town Hall Event hosted by Becky Quick, airs tonight (Thursday) on CNBC television at 9p and 12:30a ET.

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