2008 Financial Crisis

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book called ‘The Black Swan’ which was about randomness and the inevitability of improbable, unpredictable but hugely disruptive events like the banking crash of 2008. Taleb, a derivatives trader, made a great deal of money out of that and other crashes by prudently investing on the assumption that something would go wrong even though nobody knew what that was. He talks about his follow-up book called ‘Anti-fragile: How to live in a world we don’t understand’

“Once you define fragility as one who does not like volatility and variability, and for statistical reasons you can, then the exact opposite is something that loves volatility, gains from disorder, variability, stresses and similar phenomena. This category of object doesn’t have a name, it is not resilient, it is not robust, it is something beyond. A lot of things require disorder and variability to function [Beautiful]. And of course we are harming by depriving them of disorder and variability”.

[Systems that appear to be robust, like the banking system, are in fact fragile?]

“Exactly. There are systems where the errors are small and systems where the errors are large. In a transport system, an accident lowers the probability of another accident. We never let an error go to waste. On the other hand the banking system, the failure of a bank makes the next bank failure more likely. It is not a healthy system”.

[In a world of big top-down organisations it is very difficult to organize?]

“It is actually simple. You can come up with single rules. The big thing for me is to transfer fragility from the individual to the system. Skin in the game. You get harmed by your mistake. A bureaucrat in Whitehall is not harmed, but if you live in a village you feel you’ve made a mistake. You have this kind of shame checking you. Decentralisation is a must. Mathematically I show how size compounds mistakes.” [Amazing]

Nassim Taleb & Benoit Mandelbrot on PBS Newshour talk about the current ecology of the financial industry during 2008 Financial Crisis (Air date October 21, 2008).

Transcript available here: Top Theorists Examine Rippling Economic Turbulence
As the financial sector shifts, so does the reach of the jolt to economic structures around the world. Economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his mentor, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, speak with Paul Solman about chain reactions and predicting the financial crisis.