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Published on Jan 20, 2013
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a former trader and hedge fund manager, a best-selling author, and a groundbreaking theorist on risk and resilience.
Taleb drew wide attention after the 2007 publication of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, which warned that our institutions and risk models aren't designed to account for rare and catastrophic events. Among other things, the book cautioned that oversized and unaccountable banks using flawed investment models could bring on a financial crisis. He also warned that the government-sanctioned housing finance agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, were sitting on a "barrel of dynamite."
One year after The Black Swan was published, a global banking crisis was brought on by the very factors he identified.Nassim Nicholas Taleb (PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Josephine)
Taleb doesn't identify as a libertarian, but he often sounds like one. He has argued that we need to build a society where major actors have "skin in the game" and our public intellectuals can bloviate without subjecting the rest of us to the consequences of their bad ideas. He supported Ron Paul in the 2012 presidential election and has cited the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek as an influence.
Taleb has called New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman "vile and harmful" and coined the phrase the "Stiglitz Syndrome" after Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, which refers to the phenomenon of public intellectuals being held utterly unaccountable for their bad predictions. Paul Krugman and Paul Samuelson are among Taleb's other Nobel laureate bête noires.
Antifragile: Things That Gain from DisorderTaleb's new book is Antifragile: Things that Gain with Disorder, which argues that in order to create robust institutions we must allow them to build resilience through adversity. The essence of capitalism, he argues, is encouraging failure, not rewarding success.
Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Taleb for a wide-ranging discussion about why debt leads to fragility (5:16); the importance of "skin in the game" to a properly functioning financial system (10:45); why large banks should be nationalized (21:47); why technology won't rule the future (24:20); the value of studying the classics (26:09); his intellectual adversaries (33:30); why removing things is often the best way to solve problems (36:50); his intellectual influences (39:10); why capitalism is more about disincentives than incentives (43:10); why large, centralized states are prone to fail (44:50); his libertarianism (47:30); and why he'll never take writing advice from "some academic at Cambridge who sold 2,200 copies" (51:49).
Produced by Jim Epstein; camera by Epstein and Anthony L. Fisher.