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Given the range of complications that derivatives present, outside directors cannot possibly achieve close communion with the contracts their companies hold. Most chief executives won't master the game, either. In the end, the choice of what risks to hedge, what derivatives to employ in doing it, and how to draw the bright line between risk management and speculation will be largely left to financial people down the corridor --some of whom, recent train wrecks notwithstanding, may think of themselves as running a profit center. And on the other end of their phones will be derivatives salespeople trying to sell the latest innovation, which assuredly will not be a plain-vanilla hedge.
It's not a particularly cheerful picture-not for a problem as big as derivatives. So maybe what we need is new thinking, a fresh approach, a suggestion so radical it goes off the page. Here's one: Warren E. Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, says he'd deal with derivatives by requiring every CEO to affirm in his annual report that he understands each derivatives contract his company has entered into. Says Buffett: "Put that in, and I suspect you'll fix up just about every problem that exists." In a market that seems to thrive on complexity and obfuscation, such a solution won't happen. It's too simple. But he's right.