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Why I'm borrowing the words of others
A bunch of people like to sell their work by appropriating the good names of others. That's gross and dishonorable behavior. But you should know the ingredients behind your food for thought.
This is a particular challenge for me, but I’m going to address you in a first-person voice. (It’s challenging because I have written almost exclusively in the “institutional” style of narrative voice since my 10th-grade writing teacher explained that it’s the best way to keep yourself accountable to statements grounded in demonstrable facts.) But the topic of maintaining an honorable and productive relationship with investing is such an intimidating one by its nature that I want to be certain that I share my thoughts with you as a friend, not as a cold and distant party.
It is also well outside my comfort zone to borrow heavily from other people as the source of my thinking. The last thing I want to do is to come across as though I am trying to sell you on something under the cover of someone else’s good name. But there are three factors that make it necessary:
Benjamin Franklin made a fantastic case for using others as the vehicles for good ideas. As he wrote in his autobiography, “The Objections, and Reluctances I met with in Soliciting the Subscriptions, made me soon feel the Impropriety of presenting one's self as the Proposer of any useful Project that might be suppos'd to raise one's Reputation in the smallest degree above that of one's Neighbours, when one has need of their Assistance to accomplish that Project. I therefore put my self as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a Scheme of a Number of Friends, who had requested me to go about...”. If an idea was good enough for Ben, then it’s probably good enough for me.
It’s the honest thing to do. Warren Buffett has said in plain English that he most wants to be remembered as a teacher. For a teacher to be remembered, though, the lessons have to stick with the pupils, who then must pass them along to the next generation in an unbroken chain. I’ve never had the privilege of sitting across the table from Buffett or from Charlie Munger, but I’ve listened to them for dozens if not hundreds of hours, and I’ve read everything I can find that they’ve written. It’s an act of honoring their work of teaching to appropriate them the credit.
Just as intellectual honesty calls for giving credit where it is due, it is also important to reiterate loudly and often that most of the really important ideas related to investing aren’t new. They’re often quite old and thoroughly established by the facts of history. Passing off old ideas as if they’re sparkly and new is like disrupting the chain of custody for important scientific or criminal evidence. If someone held the idea first, the reader (you) deserves to know who it was and how well it has withstood challenges.
So to be brutally clear, this is emphatically not an attempt to pass off a handful of quotations as “How to Get Rich the Warren Buffett Way”. There are plenty of people out flogging that kind of merchandise, and you’re welcome to head for the exits if that’s what you want to read. I have less than zero interest in that kind of shameless profiteering.
But I am not going to make any apologies for reciting the essences of the best lessons available and giving full credit to their authors. I have selected about four dozen quotations dispensed by Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett at the 2023 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting of shareholders, and I will present them as a thoughtfully-analyzed series for you, using the plainest English I can. I invite you to join me for this series and I hope you’ll gain something from some really big and important ideas about money, arranged in what I hope you’ll find are digestible pieces.
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