Billionaire Greene Goes Long on U.S. While Bemoaning Jobs Crisis

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Billionaire Jeff Greene, who amassed a multibillion dollar fortune investing in real estate and betting against subprime mortgage securities, says the U.S. faces a jobs crisis that will cause social unrest and radical politics.

“America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence,” Greene said in an interview today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We need to reinvent our whole system of life.”

The 60-year-old founder of Palm Beach, Florida-based Florida Sunshine Investments said his biggest fund was up more than 20 percent last year with bets on Apple Inc., Google Inc., bank stocks and mortgage-backed securities.

“I’m remarkably long for my level of pessimism,” he said. “Our economy is in deep trouble. We need to be honest with ourselves. We’ve had a realistic level of job destruction, and those jobs aren’t coming back.”

Greene, who flew his wife, children and two nannies on a private jet plane to Davos for the week, said he’s planning a conference in Palm Beach, Florida, at the Tideline Hotel called “Closing the Gap.” The event, which he said is scheduled for December, will feature speakers such as economist Nouriel Roubini.

Giving Pledge

“My greatest worry for our country is that globalization and the exponential growth of technology which have destroyed millions of jobs already, will undoubtedly eliminate millions and millions more jobs during the next several years,” he said. “Many manufacturing jobs that we lost will come back to the U.S., but most will be filled by robots and software.”

“I live in Palm Beach, where no one wants to hear bad news,” he said. “We need to have an event where people aren’t just focused on predicting the price of oil.”

Greene says he has no investors or partners and manages about $2 billion in financial investments, more than $750 million in real estate and at least $1.5 billion in assorted property development projects.

Green joined Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge in 2011, and vowed to donate 80 percent of his estate to his foundation.

“I started with nothing and have lived the American dream,” he said. “My office is right next door to the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach where I worked as a busboy and waiter working my way through college. Every day when I go to work, I drive by the Breakers and I’m reminded of the great opportunities I’ve had, and my goal is that these opportunities are again available to today’s busboys. That’s why I’m at Davos, in the Giving Pledge, donate to hundreds of charities and am willing to invest a lot of time and money in a conference.”

The billionaire said he’s planning on having dinner tonight with former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, and will attend several private meals and parties throughout the week.

(Corrects source of wealth in first paragraph and location of firm in third paragraph of story published Jan. 21. Adds comments from Greene in the sixth and 10th paragraphs. Click DAVOS for more on the World Economic Forum.)
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