Warren Buffett thinks free trade is a positive for the U.S. and the world economy.
But it takes a clear, concise message from elected officials to explain why.
Speaking exclusively with Yahoo Finance’s Andy Serwer on Thursday, Buffett said that when it comes to programs like trade an “Educator-in-Chief” is needed to outline why these painful policies for a specific few will benefit the masses.
“You really need an Educator-in-Chief, as president, to explain to people” why free trade is good for the country, Buffett said. “That’s what [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt was so good at. We needed an Educator-in-Chief in 1933. And that, you could argue, was the most important part of his presidency.”
Buffett added that explaining economic policy “is an important part of any president’s job. And it’s particularly important if you have something like the financial panic in 2008 and ’09, and it’s important on trade.”
Buffett spoke to Yahoo Finance just hours before President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered new tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum set to take effect in 15 days. Canada and Mexico, two of the U.S.’s largest trading partners, will be indefinitely exempted from these tariffs.
Reports that Trump would pursue tariffs caused markets to sell off last week on fears that a trade war could break out as a result of these policies, though as details of Trump’s plan have emerged in recent days markets have been more sanguine about how these tariffs may impact the global economy.
Buffett also echoed comments he made at last year’s Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting when he said that no one in America should be “road kill” because of policies that help the masses but hurt them.
“In general, trade is helpful to [the U.S. economy] and the world,” Buffett told Yahoo Finance.
“The problem always with trade is that the benefits are invisible to a large degree — cheaper prices, better products sometimes — and diffused among 325 or 330 million people,” Buffett added.
“The harm trade does, and it does harm specific people and businesses, is very targeted, very obvious, very painful. And it’s one thing to talk about education and re-training and all that… And then you need programs to take care of the people that are specifically hit.”
Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland
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