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Buffett on the best time and place of all time to be born: 'You would pick today'

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

Although the U.S. is facing a devastating pandemic, legendary investor Warren Buffett still has high praise for the country and all that it offers.

During the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting, Buffett spoke much of American history and how far the country has come since it was established in the 1700s.

“I would like to take you through a little history to essentially make my case that if you were to pick one time to be born and one place to be born,” Buffett said, “and you didn’t know what your sex was going to be, you didn’t know what your intelligence would be, you didn’t know what your special talents or special deficiencies would be, that if you could do that one time, you would not pick 1720, you would not pick 1820, you would not pick 1820. You’d pick today, and you would pick America.” 

Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, attends the 2019 annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, May 3, 2019. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) chairman and CEO referred to prior disasters that the country experienced, and what it taught him about the U.S.’s economic future.

“I was convinced of this in World War II, I was convinced of it during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11, the Financial Crisis, that nothing can basically stop America,” Buffett said. 

‘The American magic has always prevailed’

Over 30 million people have filed for unemployment amid the coronavirus pandemic, with most businesses across the country having either halted business or drastically reduced operations. 

Buffett nevertheless remained relatively positive while delivering his remarks, focusing on America’s track record when it came to negative periods of economic activity. 

“We faced great problems in the past,” he said. “We haven’t faced this exact problem. In fact, we haven’t really faced anything that quite resembles this problem. But we’ve faced tougher problems. And the American miracle, the American magic has always prevailed, and it will do so again.” 

The unemployment numbers are expected to keep growing. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Buffett emphasized that since America was established in 1789, it hasn’t been 231 years of steady progress — and that there have been serious bumps in the road. 

He used the 1929 stock market crash as an example, which is what led to the Great Depression. The point, though, is that even though it was a bleak time in economic history for the country, the U.S. was still able to recover and reach where it was before the pandemic hit. 

“I think it’s reasonable to say that the United States, in real terms, has increased in wealth, that something in the area of 5,000 for 1, which is really mind-blowing, in a country that had a bunch of raw land,” Buffett said. “But a vision that accomplished that in 231 years, there’s just no denying that that’s way beyond what anybody could have dreamt earlier.” 

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There were 3.9 million people living in the U.S. in 1790, according to the U.S. Census. Buffett noted that they accounted for one-half of 1% of the population on the planet at the time.

“And if you’d asked any of those 3.9 million people to imagine what life would be like 231 years later, he said, “they still could not in their wildest dreams have thought that in three lifetimes — Charlie [Munger]’s, mine, and Greg [Abel]’s — you would be looking at a country with 280 million vehicles shuffling around on roads and airplanes flying people at 40,000 feet coast to coast in five hours, that great universities would exist in one state after another, great hospital systems, and entertainment would be delivered to people in a way nobody could have dreamt of in 1790.” 

“We are a very, very young country,” he added. “But what we’ve accomplished is miraculous. … This country in 231 years has exceeded anybody's dreams.” 

Adriana is a reporter and editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.


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