Usually we begin our Letter to Shareholders with a recap of last year’s earnings, but this year all business including Leucadia’s plays second fiddle to the sad state of our body politic or more simply put the mess in Washington. It is true that unemployment is down and the economy is showing signs of a pickup, but the recovery is fragile and we think quite prone to relapse back into recession. The recovery seems more beholden to money printing by the Federal Reserve than to a growing strength in the underlying economy. It is ironic that the financial shenanigans that begat the financial crisis in the first place are being treated and ostensibly cured by financial shenanigans of our own government. Our national debt has gone up two and a half times in twelve years and government expenditures are now consuming 25% of GDP, up from a more normal 20%. All of the above is not sustainable and when interest rates get back to normal we’ll be the headline, not Greece. Without fixing our fiscal infrastructure high inflation seems inevitable. One of us loves GLD the other farmland.
In the face of this compounding wall of debt further tax cuts seem as absurd as the dream of cutting in one year annual government spending by $500 billion. And any plan that doesn’t attack entitlements is not a plan. One of us leans to the right and the other to the left, but we are sure we could agree on an imperfect compromise solution to our fiscal mess. Like children on the playground, no one gets their way all the time.
Democrats and Republicans in Washington remind us of the days of the Cold War when Mutual Assured Destruction resulted in a stalemate between Russia and the U.S. In this new cold war between Democrats and Republicans we are the hostages to the stalemate. Last year we recommended the Simpson-Bowles Commission report as a start on a path to getting our economy back in balance. We do so again.