Most Powerful Women

Warren Buffett: Get the debt ceiling out of the picture

October 16, 2013: 10:57 AM ET

At Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit, Warren Buffett continued to warn against a debt default but remained positive on the economy.

Carol Loomis and Warren Buffett

Carol Loomis and Warren Buffett

FORTUNE -- As Congress scrambles to lift the nation's borrowing limit and avoid the risks of defaulting on its debt, billionaire investor Warren Buffett joined critics of the debt ceiling, calling the 1930s law originally intended to give the government more flexibility to borrow funds "a weapon of mass destruction."

"It really is like a nuclear bomb," says Buffett on Wednesday at Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C."It's something that maybe you talk about but never dream of using."

Buffett's not alone. He joins the likes of U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke who argue the debt ceiling makes no sense and wishes it didn't exist. In recent years, politicos (ahem, Republicans) have gotten in the awful habit of framing the debt ceiling as a debate over excessive government spending, when in fact, the law has nothing to do with future spending. The debt ceiling simply gives the U.S. Treasury the flexibility to borrow for spending that Congress has already approved.

Despite all the fear and political wrangling in Washington, Buffett says it's "absolutely folly" to even think the U.S. will default on its debt because "it is so stupid."

In true Buffett fashion, the Oracle of Omaha had positive views of the U.S. economy. The recovery hasn't stalled, and it's still a good time to invest.

"The country is coming back," he says. "You can't stop the United States. We get through everything. The country works."

MORE: Complete coverage of the Most Powerful Women Summit

Buffett recalled buying his first stock in April 1942 shortly after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the U.S. into World War II. The Dow sank to 100 at the time, but he says that didn't discourage him from investing in the stock market. He has been buying stocks since.

A lesson for investors: "You want to be greedy when others are fearful ... I've got plenty of greed."

Buffett touched on several other topics, from the economic rise of China to women in corporate America. On China, he says the world's second-biggest economy will be "enormously important and they should be," but the U.S. will be "the superpower of the world for a very, very, very long time.

"What's important is that the two countries largely learn to live together," says Buffett about tensions between the U.S. and China.

Widely considered the best investor of the 20th Century, Buffett, 83, attributes part of his success to luck and timing. He built his career at a time when most women were either teachers or nurses or secretaries or housewives. "I was lucky I was only competing with half the country," he says, adding that he's focused on attracting more talented women to his firm, Berkshire Hathaway.

"Berkshire is going to prove that a lot of talented women could accomplish a whole lot."

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About This Author
Nin-Hai Tseng
Nin-Hai Tseng
Writer, Fortune

Nin-Hai Tseng covers economics and finance. Before joining Fortune, Tseng was a reporter at The Orlando Sentinel and a public affairs associate at GE. She holds an MPA from Columbia University and a BS in Journalism from the University of Florida. She lives in New York City.

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