From the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the 2008 financial collapse, many of the most consequential events in recent history caught government and investors off guard. In 2007, Nassim Nicholas Taleb provided a highly influential framework for explaining, and adapting to, these unpredictable shocks to political and financial systems, with his book “The Black Swan.” His latest work, “Antifragile,” expands on his theory of the unknown to explain how we can succeed and thrive in a world ruled by disorder.
You don’t need a physics degree to ride a bicycle. Nor, Nassim Nicholas Taleb realized one day, do traders need to understand the mathematical theorems of options trading to trade options. Instead traders discover “heuristics,” or rules of thumb, by trial and error. These are then formalized by academics into theorems and taught to new generations of traders, who become slaves to theory, ignore their own common sense and end by blowing up the system. In a neat echo of its own thesis, Mr. Taleb’s paper making this point sat unpublished for seven years while academic reviewers tried to alter it to fit their prejudices.
In November of 2012, immediately after U.S. Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, Ben Bernanke announced the implementation of Quantitative Easing II, Nassim Taleb contacted Bloomberg News interviewer, Erik Schatzker to say “Something has to be done about Ben Bernanke”.
Foreign Policy has an article on their website with reflections from Nassim touching on Fragility/Antifragility, the stability of countries, city-states and decentralizing government, Lebanon, the European Union, and US deficits, titled Epiphanies from Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb has made a career of going against the grain, and he has been successful enough that the title of his book The Black Swan is a catchphrase for global unpredictability far beyond its Wall Street origins. Born in Lebanon, he weathered the first few years of the civil war in the late 1970s reading philosophy and mathematics — from Plato to Poincaré — in his family’s basement. War taught him how quickly fortunes can change, an insight he soon applied to derivatives markets. For Taleb, investing is about “hyper conservatism,” which includes making lots of tiny bets on wildly unlikely events — like a currency crisis or the banking collapse, on which he made tens of millions of dollars. His newest project is helping governments get smarter about risks, and his fervent anti-euro message has helped win him the ear of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb Looks like a preview of what to expect from the economics and econophaster establishment. Davies is the gentleman there; others have not even given a simple thougth to model error and which domains are affected by it. But asking people to explain insults can lead to pleasant surprises.
This morning, Nassim Taleb returned to Twitter, posting one of the technical appendices to his new book. And immediately he got into a wonderfully wonky twitterfight/conversation with Daniel Davies.
I don’t pretend to understand all the subtleties of the conversation between the two, but, for Tom Foster, here’s an attempt. Davies has promised a Crooked Timber post on other parts of the appendix; I’m really looking forward to that.