An Offering at the Shrine of St. Taleb

Taleb isn't always the easiest guy to understand. He's fundamentally a philosopher who comments in parables and aphorisms, debates in mathematics, and his limited patience for the uninitiated. But when he writes more generally about the world, it's always very useful (even though he's a jerk).

As you know, I'm always tracking the utterances of my personal patron saint of risk. There have been a few recently that are worth contemplation.

(Insert heavenly choir)


The rise of protectionism may have a strong rationale. One fundamental flaw with economic thinking is that humans are assumed to be doing things to make a living and improve their economic condition. This is partially true. But people are also doing things for existential reasons. We may be better off economically (in the aggregate) by exporting jobs. But that's not what people may really want.

I write because that's what I am designed to do --and subcontracting my research and writing to China or Tunisia would (perhaps) increase my productivity but deprive me of my identity.

So people might want to *do* things. Just to do things, because they feel it is part of their identity. It may be cruel to cheat them of that. They too want to play. They want to have their soul in the game.
Bureaucrats don't get it because they don't do things.
NOTE I: More technically, it is erroneous to think that one necessarily has to "maximize" income if one seeks it (economists used naive mathematics in their optimization programs and thinking). It is perfectly compatible to "satisfice" their wealth, that is, shoot for a satisfactory income, plus maximize one's fitness to the task, or the emotional pride they may have in seeing the fruits of their labor. Or not maximize anything, just do things because that is what makes us human.

St. Taleb often rants about economics, but his rants usually include math that I frankly don't understand. Here it is in plain English. The reason that modern economics doesn't really seem to make sense is that it's based on humans as rational actors with their own self-interest at heart. But humans are mushy, emotional sacks of meat with immortal souls whose reasoning is frequently neither logical or optimized to the environment. I think this misunderstanding on the part of some economics is what causes the disconnect between the material and spiritual in the West. Eastern thinking has a lot more integrated and balanced view... prosperity is something that is connected to right living and not against it. It's possible to be successful because of, not despite, being a good person.

Another one:

What we are seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30y of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, microeconomic papers wrong 40% of the time, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating only 1/5th of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers with a better track record than these policymaking goons.

Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats wanting to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. I have shown that most of what Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types call “rational” or “irrational” comes from misunderstanding of probability theory.

Forget the name calling for a moment (I always feel that Taleb's arguments would go over better if he stopped that, but I'm also guessing that he doesn't give a fuck). What he's pointing to here is the global war on truth that's taken over all areas of both academic and non-academic research.

I don't think this is a conspiracy in the classical sense so much as the logical output of several corrupt and money driven systems all interconnecting. Truth ends up being the casualty. This causes a general lack of trust that's pervasive across the globe. You might think that the result wold be more critical thinking and uncertainty. Unfortunately, humans are bad at the former and extremely uncomfortable with the latter. The actual result is polarization and societal fracturing as people will believe in a broad range of "facts" that don't jibe with one another. And because of the general mistrust and discomfort, those "facts" are held as absolute or religious truths.

Some people don't want to do the work of fact checking, so they pick a pundit or news station and just decide to believe in what they say. Other's are overly skeptical, to the point that if anyone in authority anywhere says something, it must be untrue.


The *establishment* ... are not getting the point about what is happening and the sterility of their arguments. People are not voting for Trump (or Sanders). People are just voting, finally, to destroy the establishment.

This. Right. Here. There is no more succinct expression of current US politics. While I personally love Sanders, I don't think he would actually be an effective president with our current system. But that's not his point. His point is to tear down the current system. Just like Trump. Their supporters see things as so broken that they want something completely different. This article is a great example. Some of these people are democrats voting for Trump because they want to SMASH THINGS.

I know that things are pretty broken and that they may not be able to be fixed. But I heard all my mom's stories of growing up in WWII Germany and I look at my own child and, you know, I just can't go that far. Revolutions have casualties and cause suffering. I have a hard time voting for that. Yet it's also extremely unpalatable to vote for the anointed candidate of the current broken system. Personally, I'm taking the lesser of two evils approach, but I'm working hard to avoid an emotional engagement. I tried that the last two times and it backfired. It's not only true that a good person can't make headway in a broken system, it's also true that they will tend to be negatively influenced by that same system. Power corrupts.


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