OMAHA, Neb. - Billionaire Warren Buffett remains confident that America’s best days are ahead, but he says the nation likely will face higher unemployment and eventually inflation because of the current economic crisis.
Buffett said the nation’s leaders need to emphasize a consistent message, and they should support President Barack Obama’s efforts to repair the economy because fear is dominating Americans’ behavior.
Buffett said the economy has basically followed the worst-case scenario he envisioned six months ago.
“It’s fallen off a cliff,” Buffett said Monday during a live appearance on cable network CNBC. “Not only has the economy slowed down a lot, but people have really changed their habits like I haven’t seen.”
Buffett said the changes are reflected in the results of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s subsidiaries. He said Berkshire’s jewelry companies have suffered, but more people have been willing to switch to Geico to save money on car insurance. The three-hour-long interview aired from another Berkshire subsidiary that has been hampered by the economy, the Nebraska Furniture Mart store in Omaha.
He predicted that unemployment will climb a lot higher before the recession is done, but he also reiterated his optimistic long-term view: “Everything will be all right. We do have the greatest economic machine that man has ever created.”
Fear and confusion have been driving consumer and investor behavior in recent months, Buffett said.
The nation’s leaders need to clear up the confusion before anyone will become more confident, and he said all 535 members of Congress should stop the partisan bickering about solutions. He said politicians should also stop trying to use the current economic crisis to force through other policy changes.
“We ought to defer most of the things that get people riled up,” Buffett said.
Buffett said he believes patriotic Republicans and Democrats will realize the nation is engaged in an economic war.
“What is required is a commander in chief that’s looked at like a commander in chief in a time of war,” Buffett said.
Whatever the government does to help the economy will likely benefit some people who made poor financial decisions, but Buffett said Americans should realize that everyone is in the same boat.
“The people that behaved well are no doubt going to find themselves taking care of the people who didn’t behave well,” Buffett said.
The current efforts to help revive the economy are likely to produce inflation that could be worse than what the country suffered in the late 1970s, Buffett said.
But even though the nation will have to pay for current policies with future inflation, Buffett said, the U.S. government still needs to act.
“We’re in a big war, and we’re going to use money to fight it,” he said.
Maintaining faith in the nation’s banking system will be important to restoring the economy’s health, Buffett added. He said President Barack Obama needs to make it very clear that consumers won’t lose money in banks even if more fail.