Political Behavior Not Respectful of American History.
Warren Buffett was quoted in Andrew Ross Sorkin’s New York Times Dealbook column today as saying “If somebody bought Berkshire Hathaway in 1965 and they held it, they made a great investment, and their broker would have starved to death,” As Sorkin points out, “Buffett was lamenting the current state of Wall Street, which promotes a trading culture over an investing culture and offers incentives for brokers and traders to generate fees and fast profits.”
As I read the column today, I could not but think of the comparison of Wall Street brokers and traders to our Senators, Congressmen and our President. What the nation needs is a long term, sustainable investment strategy, but what we are getting is political leadership reminiscent of Wall Street hedge fund, short sale culture which promotes near term political gain at the expense of long term economic prosperity. Exactly what Buffett laments about our Wall Street culture has happened in Washington.
Survey after survey demonstrates that a majority of Americans believe that both entitlement reform (aka spending reductions), and revenue enhancements (aka tax increases), are needed to avoid the profligacy of the past decade. And a majority of Americans are right. We live in the most prosperous country the world has ever seen. All that we need to sustain that creation is to care for our debts and to nurture the freedom of American entrepreneurialism. But, as history has pointed out, freedom comes with a cost.
When our country was in its infancy, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, knew that the country’s long term prosperity depended upon the payment of our nation’s Revolutionary War debts. By agreeing to form a national bank, Hamilton, and Speaker of the House James Monroe, created an economic engine; tying the economic fate of the 13 colonies together and forming the basis for the most prosperous country the world had ever witnessed.
The compromise was hard fought and intense, with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson aligned with James Madison and southern interests that were suspicious and fearful of the confiscatory powers of an overreaching and too powerful federal government. The more industrialized north, which Hamilton was advocating for, recognized that foreign investment in the development of our nation’s economic infrastructure was critical to the new country’s long term prosperity. Both sides were right, sought compromise, and today, we have all benefitted from their long term view of America as a nation, instead of their own fate as political leaders.
King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:5-9).
Our President and his party are playing class warfare and Republicans are defending their own narrow political interests while it seems that no one is paying attention to the Nation’s long term needs (aka paying off our debts). Unfortunately, with our mass media culture and our two year election cycles, our elected leaders are acting just like the Wall Street traders that Buffett laments.
Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Monroe, and our entire nation are waiting for our current crop of leaders to act in a manner that is respectful to our nation’s founders and mindful of the generations of Americans yet to come. President Washington would not have gone to a toy factory in Pennsylvania to promise a lump of coal to those that disagreed with him. Leadership starts from the top; shut out the cameras, lock the doors, sit down and get this deal done. Put the Country’s interests first, get these difficult negotiations behind us and watch America grow again. America needs a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah.