Buffett on Buffett

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Scores of reporters, columnists, and bloggers have been weighing in on Warren Buffett's subpoenaed testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, especially his suggestion that although Berkshire Hathaway acquired a significant share in Moody's, an agency that gave high marks to ultimately worthless mortgage-related securities, he really didn't believe much in ratings and did his own analysis.

Mr. Buffett's attitude toward the ratings business reminds me of a lucrative but potentially time-robbing job offer I received when I was turning from editing to writing. I suggested instead a part-time, home-based position of a kind that was becoming popular in some book publishing circles, and I pointed out that the company's business division was featuring works extolling the new flexible workplace. I'll never forget the only half-joking reply: "We just publish them. We don't read them."

My favorite commentary is by Mr. Buffett himself, a prophetic assessment of his own position in ratings, and the financial catastrophe that they helped make possible, in a famous remark years ago:

When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is usually the reputation of the business that remains intact.
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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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