Taxes

Warren Buffett: Raising taxes on rich won't chill economy

Nov. 27, 2012 at 9:05 AM ET

Raising taxes on the rich won't dampen economic growth and would "raise the morale of the middle class," billionaire investor Warren Buffett told the TODAY show Tuesday.

Echoing a theme he has stressed often, Buffett downplayed the idea that higher taxes for the wealthy, as proposed by the Obama administration as part of a deal to resolve the "fiscal cliff," would scare off critical investment for job creation. Republicans argue that raising taxes on people in higher tax brackets would choke off investment and slow the economy at a time when it can ill afford it.

Buffett disagrees. "No, and I think it would have a great effect on the morale of the middle class," said Buffett, in the first of two live interviews with TODAY's Matt Lauer. "They've had to watch guys like me pay below the rate by that paid by the people in my office."

Also known as the "Oracle of Omaha" for his investing acumen, Buffett's views on the economy are widely followed, including on whether we're really going to go off the "fiscal cliff" of $500 million in tax hikes and spending cuts.

The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway has been vocal on the economy lately, proposing in a New York Times op-ed Monday that there be a minimum tax for the wealthy.

"I'm confident," said Buffet when asked about how he was feeling about the economy. "I can't speak for others, but at Berkshire Hathaway, we buy and sell stocks every day. America's a winner."

Lauer brought up a recent quote from Honeywell CEO David Cote who told Meet the Press that he and others like him were feeling a lack of confidence in the political process, so much so that the uncertainty was making them keep their money on the sidelines and preventing them from making additional investments, including hiring.

"At Berkshire Hathaway, we're investing 9 billion in plant equipment, a record, breaking last year's record. It's always uncertain," said Buffett.

"December 6th 1941 was uncertain," said Buffett, referring to the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. "We just didn't know it."

When asked whether Congress would really enact a strong proposal such as the one Buffett made in his Times op-ed, which suggested setting a minimum 30 percent tax for millionaires, Buffet said, "I wouldn't be surprised. They're going to make a deal."

Now there's a new Buffett book, "Tap-Dancing to Work" that trace his career through 80 different FORTUNE Magazine articles over the years. If there's one thing that stuck out from the timeline, Carol Loomis, FORTUNE editor, who collected and expanded the articles for the book, told TODAY, it's "how consistent he's been in his thinking. He's never changed." 

"I couldn't be more boring," said Buffett. "I just look at the facts and wherever they lead me, I go."

Is this the secret to Buffett's success? Lauer asked Loomis. It's hard, she said, because other investors "get emotional."

Buffett is known for finding undervalued companies with strong fundamentals and good management. "It's simple, but not easy," said Loomis. "That's why other people can't do it. He's thinking about business 24/7."

Lauer asked if this book was a goodbye letter of sorts. "What's it going to mean to the world when he hangs up his investing shoes?" he asked.

Loomis said, "He will be remembered. His role in life will be remembered for the next century. I don't know whether investing or philanthropy is going to be the lead item. People are going to be reading about Buffet 100 years from now."

About that retirement... "Got a date in mind?" Lauer asked the 82-year old businessman.

Buffett just laughed.

Read a free excerpt from the book Tap-Dancing to Work

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