ANDY SERWER: I’m here with Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Charlie, great to see you.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Nice to be here.
ANDY SERWER: I want to continue with some of the questions that people were asking you at the annual meeting and start maybe with China, and trade and tariffs. And you said that even Trump can be right on some of this stuff.
CHARLIE MUNGER: Yes, when people get mad enough at one politician, they get to thinking everything he says and does is wrong, and that’s never the case.
ANDY SERWER: What, what, go ahead and continue. I’m sorry.
CHARLIE MUNGER: And all I said was that you don’t want to be such an absolute purist for free trade. I’m almost a purist, but not quite, but I wouldn’t want the entire steel industry in the United States to move offshore. There’s some place where you could draw a line without ruining the world.
ANDY SERWER: What should our trade policy be then? I mean, yes China can be unfair, is unfair, but how should we pursue this?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well, attitudes entirely different from our president’s. I’m glad that we ran a big trade deficit with China. That enabled them to rapidly get out of poverty and obscurity. I welcome the Chinese to the group of advanced nations, which I think we enabled considerably by our willingness to trade with them as they moved ever upward in terms of complexity of enterprise.
So I like what’s happened. I don’t regard it as unfair and bad. I’m not saying that it would be unthinkable to have some tariffs somewhere, but basically I’m a free trader and I am particularly a free trader in dealing with China. And I like the fact that free trade with China has enabled China to expand so much, and they got out of poverty.
They had hundreds of millions of people in rural poverty and they made huge, in the whole history of the world, no big nation has ever advanced faster than China. And this free trade helped them do it. And I like it.
ANDY SERWER: But aren’t they unfair to us? Just to follow up on, you know, intellectual property.
CHARLIE MUNGER: I’m sure there are places where somebody in China has some advantage over somebody in the United States that you and I might not like perfectly, but that will always happen. But basically, the Chinese broke the Berkshire Hathaway shoe business in Maine. It disappeared basically because their shoes were very good and cheaper.
I’m not mad at China over that and Berkshire has prospered. It’s not so good for Maine, but we can’t help it. There’s no way to make an advanced civilization never hurt anybody as it evolves.
ANDY SERWER: There’s a lot of talk about an elephant that Berkshire is on the hunt for a big acquisition. Could that elephant be in China.? And if it was, could you even buy it given the relationship between the two countries right now?
CHARLIE MUNGER: I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll be buying any great Chinese companies. The Chinese are very proud of their companies and they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished. What I consider quite likely is that we will be invited to buy part of some great Chinese company. And just because they like the good company. And I think that is very likely to happen some time, and we would welcome it. We own minority positions in a lot of companies. We own a minority position in BYD.
ANDY SERWER: Let me ask you, then, about BYD and Chinese cars. When will Chinese cars be allowed in the United States and what’s holding it up, is it bureaucracy?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well the auto market is very competitive and very fully occupied. And of course, nobody in the United States wants to lose our last two big domestic suppliers, manufacturers of autos. Well three if you want to count Ferrari Chrysler. And so it’s hard for somebody new to come in the American market big. And China has such a big market of its own. My guess is they’ll stay busy in their own part of the world for a long time.
ANDY SERWER: So that’s not a priority for BYD?
CHARLIE MUNGER: Well BYD’s biggest advantage is in the electric cars. Where they’re so close to the cutting edge of battery technology. And so they’d be crazy not to emphasize the hybrid electric cars over the gasoline cars. Not that they’ll go out of the gasoline market, but I think they will be biggest in the hybrid and electric cars.
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