There has been no shortage of critics when it comes to the government’s handling of the financial crisis that rocked the economy and stock market in late 2008. But the man many consider the world’s greatest investor is not among them.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Buffett, writing to “Uncle Sam”, says the government “delivered. People will second-guess your specific decisions; you can always count on that. But just as there is a fog of war, there is a fog of panic — and, overall, your actions were remarkably effective.”
Buffett says the situation was dire when the crisis hit: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had been forced into conservatorship; big commercial banks were “teetering”; Lehman Brothers had collapsed and other investment banks “were poised to follow”; and insurance giant A.I.G. “was at death’s door”, he says. In addition, Buffett writes, “Many of our largest industrial companies, dependent on commercial paper financing that had disappeared, were weeks away from exhausting their cash resources. Indeed, all of corporate America’s dominoes were lined up, ready to topple at lightning speed.” And individual Americans, who days before were confident in their jobs, income, 401(k)’s and bank accounts, watched as “virtually overnight, everything began to turn into pumpkins and mice. There was no hiding place. A destructive economic force unlike any seen for generations had been unleashed.”
The only force to counter the crisis, Buffett says, was the government, and it acted swiftly and impressively. “Often you are wasteful, and sometimes you are bullying,” Buffett says of “Uncle Sam”. “On occasion, you are downright maddening. But in this extraordinary emergency, you came through — and the world would look far different now if you had not.”