Warren Buffett Delivers Warning on U.S. Debt

Warren Buffett, the famed Oracle of Omaha, pens a column in Wednesday's New York TImes in which he warns of the "butterfly effect" of unchecked, long-term debt.
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NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- There are no casual comments from Warren Buffett -- and definitely no casual columns. Thus, expect repercussions from the column penned by Buffett in today's

New York Times

(NYT) - Get Report

.

In it, Buffett draws a parallel between the potentially devastating "butterfly effect" of carbon emissions and the similar long-term impact of "greenback emissions," claiming that the United States must be cognizant of the unintended consequences of outsize government debt.

Buffett, the 78-year-old billionaire CEO of

Berkshire Hathaway

, has served as an economic adviser to President Barack Obama during both the presidential campaign and Obama's first year in office.

"To be sure, we've been doing this for a reason I resoundingly applaud," Buffett writes. "Last fall, our financial system stood on the brink of a collapse that threatened a depression. The crisis required our government to display wisdom, courage and decisiveness. Fortunately, the Federal Reserve and key economic officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations responded more than ably to the need.

"A meltdown," Buffett argues, was avoided, "with a gusher of federal money playing an essential role in the rescue."

Still, Buffett goes on to warn that "enormous dosages of monetary medicine continue to be administered and, before long, we will need to deal with their side effects. For now, most of those effects are invisible and could indeed remain latent for a long time. Still, their threat may be as ominous as that posed by the financial crisis itself."

The U.S. budget deficit is projected to reach a record $1.841 trillion for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

Buffett notes that the nation's "net debt" (the amount held publicly) is increasing at a rate of more than 1% per month, and will have climbed, by the end of the fiscal year, to about 56% of G.D.P. from 41%. "Admittedly," he writes, "other countries, like Japan and Italy, have far higher ratios and no one can know the precise level of net debt to G.D.P. at which the United States will lose its reputation for financial integrity. But a few more years like this one and we will find out."

"Once recovery is gained," he writes, "Congress must end the rise in the debt-to-GDP ratio and keep our growth in obligations in line with our growth in resources.... With government expenditures now running 185 percent of receipts, truly major changes in both taxes and outlays will be required. A revived economy can't come close to bridging that sort of gap."

-- Written by Ty Wenger in New York

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