The Skin In The Game Heuristic for Protection Against Tail Events
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
NYU-Poly; Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne – Centre d’Economie de la Sorbonne (CES)
July 30, 2013
Standard economic theory makes an allowance for the agency problem, but not the compounding of moral hazard in the presence of informational opacity, particularly in what concerns high-impact events in fat tailed domains. But the ancients did; so did many aspects of moral philosophy. We propose a global and morally mandatory heuristic that anyone involved in an action which can possibly generate harm for others, even probabilistically, should be required to be exposed to some damage, regardless of context. While perhaps not sufficient, the heuristic is certainly necessary hence mandatory. It is supposed to counter risk hiding and transfer in the tails. We link the rule to various philosophical approaches to ethics and moral luck.
Nassim Taleb of NYU-Poly talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his recent paper (with Constantine Sandis) on the morality and effectiveness of “skin in the game.” When decision makers have skin in the game–when they share in the costs and benefits of their decisions that might affect others–they are more likely to make prudent decisions than in cases where decision-makers can impose costs on others. Taleb sees skin in the game as not just a useful policy concept but a moral imperative. The conversation closes with some observations on the power of expected value for evaluating predictions along with Taleb’s thoughts on economists who rarely have skin in the game when they make forecasts or take policy positions.
Nassim has just completed a AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit.com
I am interested in decision making under opacity (when we don’t know what’s going on) without being harmed by mistakes, disorder, and volatility, and be potentially helped by them. Antifragility at the gobal level is achieved through the skin in the game rule: people should be harmed by their mistakes if these harm others. At the personal (local) level… let’s discuss. Home Page (Verified on twitter @nntaleb)
Friends, comments are invited for this draft on a philosophy paper w/ Constantine Sandis, “ETHICS AND ASYMMETRY: SKIN IN THE GAME AS A REQUIRED HEURISTIC FOR ACTING UNDER UNCERTAINTY
C. Sandis & N.N. Taleb Abstract: We propose a global and mandatory heuristic that anyone involved in an action that can possibly generate harm for others, even probabilistically, should be required to be exposed to some damage, regardless of context. We link the rule to various philosophical approaches to ethics and moral luck.
“Those who have the upside are not necessarily those who incur the downside. For example, bankers and corporate managers get bonuses for “performance,” but not reverse bonuses for negative performance, and they have an incentive to bury risks in the tails of the distribution –& in other words, to delay blowups.
The ancients were fully aware of this incentive to hide risks,& and implemented very simple but potent heuristics. About 3,800 years ago, the Code of Hammurabi specified that if a house collapses and causes the death of its owner, the house’s builder shall be put to death.”
Taleb tries to inform a group of economically ignorant legislators. Congress is completely clueless in regards to simple concepts such as “risk”. Taleb mentions that our society is “over-financialized” because debt to GDP has grown to unsustainable levels and that our children and grandchildren will be punished for the foolish risks that government has taken with deficit spending, drastically increasing public debt, and central planning. Unfortunately Congress has not listened and continues to spend, as they are naive enough to believe that throwing money at our problems will solve everything.
Taleb wants to suspend VaR, however that is only one minor issue. The major issue at hand is Congress; how Congress facilitates, encourages, rewards, foolish and disastrous behavior. Congressional oversight of the Federal Reserve Bank and Ben Bernanke is non existent. Congressional oversight of Housing and Urban Development is non-existent. Congressional oversight of MLB players accused of using anabolic steroids is absolutely exceptional. Luckily, Congress is there to prevent the world from losing interest in something as significant as baseball. If anything will bring about hyperinflation and/or a world wide catastrophe, it is baseball and the lack of oversight. Don’t worry about imbeciles like Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan… go after Curt Schilling! Forget about those who created the housing meltdown and the Great Recession… forget about Andrew Cuomo, Bill Clinton, Franklin Raines, Jamie Gorelick, Jim Johnson, Rahm Emanuel, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank… go after Roger Clemens! Forget about unfunded liabilities in the ten of trillions – and perhaps hundreds of trillions – created by Ponzi Scheme policies… go arrest Mark Mcgwire!
Presenter: Show of hands, who thinks this will be repeated? Why is that?
Nassim Taleb: Can I tell you what’s happening? This happened in the past, it keeps repeating itself. We keep bailing them out. The only way this will not be repeated this if you have punishment. The only place in which you had punishment is here switzerland, they went back and clawed back the bonuses. Until we do that we will always live under moral hazard from banks.
Presenter: So the leaders who were in charge taking on that risk, selling those complex products, should give money back?
Nassim Taleb: Yes, there is a gentleman who is a government official Bob Rubin. I think he pocketed 150 Million dollars from Citibank. Now I don’t know how many American tax payers we have here but we are paying for that. That should not happen again but it had happened, it has happened several times in history, unless you have punishment you will never be immune from these abuses.
Presenter: So the bonuses for the last how many years?
Nassim Taleb: I don’t care, whatever, something. In Switzerland they settled it. They did it very properly and very responsibly. This is the only country here, Switzerland that acted responsibly.