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Crisis is 'an economic Pearl Harbor,' Buffett says

"This really is an economic Pearl Harbor," billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett said Wednesday night during an interview centering on the current economic crisis on public television's "Charlie Rose."

"I've never used that term before, but it really is one," Buffett added. Speaking in San Diego, where he is attending Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women Summit, Buffett said that the bailout plan before Congress was not perfect but that he favored immediate action even with its flaws.

"If you don't react to Pearl Harbor in two or three weeks, you're that much behind in the war you should have been fighting," he said.

Buffett gave a ringing endorsement to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. -- "I don't think you can have a better secretary of Treasury" -- and expressed confidence that the Treasury could turn back worldwide economic collapse.

Buffett suggested that the buyout of distressed mortgages could turn a profit for the Treasury. "In the end, $700 billion is a lot of money," he said, "but you may be buying $2 trillion at market value."

Despite the recovery plan, he predicted that there will be a recession and that it won't be over in just two or three months.

"It won't create dramatic results in the economy," Buffett added. "You're going to have more people unemployed, but it may be 7 percent instead of 9 percent. That's 3 million people. You don't want to see 3 million people unemployed." But the economy will turn around quicker if Congress acts quickly, he said. "If we don't do the things we should do," he said, "it will take five years."

Buffett said he expected the country to be better off in 10 years and better still in 20 years. He said he also expected that the recovery will have "some inflationary consequences."

Buffett is chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns The Buffalo News. Rose's interview with him will be shown again at 1:30 p.m. today on WNED-TV, Channel 17. The program also will be broadcast on the radio on WNED-AM at 1 p.m. today, and it will stream on www.wned.org/AM.

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com

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