photo of elephants

What is Skin in the Game? The phrase is often mistaken for one-sided incentives: the promise of a bonus will make someone work harder for you. For the central attribute is symmetry: the balancing of incentives and disincentives, people should also penalized if something for which they are responsible goes wrong and hurts others: he or she who wants a share of the benefits needs to also share some of the risks.


Taleb is a very difficult person to pin down. As Ralph Nader put it last month: “You cannot pigeonhole him!” But I think that introduction to his insight (and foresight) should suffice to convince even those who have never heard of him before that he’s worth listening to.

Taleb is a former trader, a professor at NYU, and the author of several best-sellers including Fooled by RandomnessThe Black SwanAntifragile, and his just-released Skin in the GameBut perhaps its best to classify him as a “flaneur,” someone who — according to the Oxford Dictionary, “saunters around observing society.”

Also see written article here:

Nassim’s latest book Skin in the Game it finally out!

Nassim Taleb Skin in the Game

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Black Swan, a bold new work that challenges many of our long-held beliefs about risk and reward, politics and religion, finance and personal responsibility

In his most provocative and practical book yet, one of the foremost thinkers of our time redefines what it means to understand the world, succeed in a profession, contribute to a fair and just society, detect nonsense, and influence others. Citing examples ranging from Hammurabi to Seneca, Antaeus the Giant to Donald Trump, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows how the willingness to accept one’s own risks is an essential attribute of heroes, saints, and flourishing people in all walks of life.

As always both accessible and iconoclastic, Taleb challenges long-held beliefs about the values of those who spearhead military interventions, make financial investments, and propagate religious faiths. Among his insights:

• For social justice, focus on symmetry and risk sharing. You cannot make profits and transfer the risks to others, as bankers and large corporations do. You cannot get rich without owning your own risk and paying for your own losses. Forcing skin in the game corrects this asymmetry better than thousands of laws and regulations.
• Ethical rules aren’t universal. You’re part of a group larger than you, but it’s still smaller than humanity in general.
• Minorities, not majorities, run the world. The world is not run by consensus but by stubborn minorities imposing their tastes and ethics on others.
• You can be an intellectual yet still be an idiot. “Educated philistines” have been wrong on everything from Stalinism to Iraq to low-carb diets.
• Beware of complicated solutions (that someone was paid to find). A simple barbell can build muscle better than expensive new machines.
• True religion is commitment, not just faith. How much you believe in something is manifested only by what you’re willing to risk for it.

The phrase “skin in the game” is one we have often heard but rarely stopped to truly dissect. It is the backbone of risk management, but it’s also an astonishingly rich worldview that, as Taleb shows in this book, applies to all aspects of our lives. As Taleb says, “The symmetry of skin in the game is a simple rule that’s necessary for fairness and justice, and the ultimate BS-buster,” and “Never trust anyone who doesn’t have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will benefit, and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them.”

The anachronism shown. The Phyla and Waves Models of Classification by Semiticists is not very scientific.

It would be an anachronism to assert that Italian is a dialect of Catalan, but safe to say that Italian comes from Latin. But when it comes to Lebanese (more generally NorthWestern Levantine), the “politically correct” Arabist-think-tank view is that is is derived from Arabic (Lebanese “dialect” of Arabic) to accommodate sensitivities — even linguists find arguments to violate the arrow of time to serve the interest of panArabism. In situations where there are similarities between a word used in Leb and Arabic, they insist it comes from Arabic not from a common root. (Most Lebanese are confused by diglossia as one is not supposed to write in the spoken language).

We use fragility theory to show the effect of size and response to uncertainty, how distributed decision-making creates more apparent volatility, but ensures long term survival of a system. Simply, economies of scale are more than offset by stochastic diseconomies from shocks and there is such a thing as a “sweet spot” in optimal size. We show how city-states fare better than large states, how mice and small species are more robust than elephants, and how the canton mechanism can potentially solve Near Eastern problems.

This talk was part of “Cities and Development: Urban Determinants of Success” — the NYU Development Research Institute’s 2014 Conference, hosted jointly with the Marron Institute of Urban Management. The conference touched on the role of cities in the development process.