Warren Buffett and Bill Gates spoke to a group of Columbia students on Thursday for a CNBC town hall and question-and-answer session. The business giants discussed topics ranging from capitalism and the state of the economy to Goldman Sachs, Apple, and Google, and they were decidedly positive in their outlooks.
When asked whether at any point over the last year they'd doubted capitalism and the American "way of life," both expressed confidence in the system. "This country works," Buffett told the audience. "We have two hundred years of proof, and it's going to continue to work."
Gates said the United States is still a great place for innovation and science, and he said that while he expected that "we're going to tune our system of capitalism," overall the structure of the American free market system is strong:
"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 conceded that the "economy was sputtering, still is sputtering some," but he indicated that there is great opportunity for growth within the country, and counseled investors to look inward before going overseas. He also addressed the challenge of regulatory reform:
"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."
The students applauded and clapped in unanimity after each of Buffett's punch lines- all variations on: "Right now, I would pay $100,000 for 10 percent of the future earnings of any of you. So, if anyone wants to see me after this is over ..."