Antifragile: Disorder Enables Growth

Some years ago (2008/09) as the financial markets were coming unglued, I happened to see an interview with Nassim Taleb, a former options trader who predicted the unravelling of the world’s financial system with his “Black Swan” theory. In fact, there is a lovely Bloomberg interview with Mr. Taleb who clearly stakes out his views in 2009 which takes to task Geithner, Obama and others on how to fix the financial system.

Personally, I found Nassim Taleb to be a bit “heavy” and not the glib “suit” that typically “drops wisdom” on listeners of CNBC and Bloomberg.    Nevertheless, the “black swan theory” stuck firmly in my brain as I realized that seemingly random and apparently inconsequential events could easily break most predictive models.

Encouraged by someone I respect, I started reading Antifragile:  Things that Gain from Disorder, which Mr. Taleb first published in 2012.  Found below is a somewhat superficial video overview of a book which articulates a way forward to analyze the frailty, robustness or antifragility of “almost everything about our world.”

I have only gotten through the prologue and am totally hooked. I can’t wait to delve into the 7 books, although Mr. Taleb suggests that “the enlightened reader” may wish to skip book 5. Let’s face it, who can argue with someone whose first ethical rule is: “If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.”

I doubt that this book will resonate with the many frauds holding public office and the self-assured bureaucrats at the Fed and the European Community, but it is compulsive reading for anyone wishing to see the world without the need for rose-colored glasses. This book calls into question many of the myths which currently dominate business, science, ethics, decision making, learning, regulation and political systems. What a breath of fresh air. It is rare to see such uncompromising intellectual honesty.

Wouldn’t you like a simplistic yet compelling model to look at most everything around you to determine if it is fragile, robust or antifragile? I do, because then you have a framework of dealing objectively with your environment and patiently allow disorder to work its wonder.

Simply brilliant Mr. Taleb.

Garrison Keillor: End of an Era

People my age tend to become boringly opinionated.  Sadly, I became boringly opinionated at a much earlier age, but far less so than the nut cases now running for President.  I am anticipating a hilarious and entertaining summer and early fall as these two unscrupulous clowns vie for the Presidency. You can’t make this up.

One person of character who is not likely to be watching this slug-fest unfold is Garrison Keillor who called an end to his remarkable story-telling last week in Los Angeles. Garrison didn’t appeal to everyone, but his wry sense of humor and empathy for the common Midwestern man/woman makes him a giant humanist in a country which seems to be careening out of control. I will certainly miss Mr. Keillor entertain us with his nostalgic tales of the people and creatures that inhabit the Lake Wobegon community.

I have written several times about Garrison Keillor and do encourage you to watch Robert Altman’s tribute to Garrison in the appropriately named film “A Prairie Dog’s Companion.” Some may find it painfully hokey, but I still revel in its earthy humor.

Found below is a recent video clip from CBS which frames Garrison’s life as he disappears into the sunset: Good Lord! Another writer?

Farewell

Brexit: Blame It on Angry Old Men

Most Europeans I chatted with before the Brexit referendum were far more worried about Donald Trump than the Brexit vote.    Now that “reality” has set in, most everyone is second-guessing themselves and wondering how such a silly election ploy by Cameron could have backfired so tragically.

My own view of the impact of the Brexit referendum is far more pedestrian than most.

UK opts for bangers and mash

 

Even though the UK will be cheaper for tourists, I dread eating pub fare, even though young Europeans commonly refer to them as “gastropubs.”

Blame It on Angry Old Men

While there are no doubt many reasons why UK voters decided to say au revoir to the European Union, I am struck by the attack on “angry old men,” who Jochen Bittner blames for the game-changing vote:

“The British vote feels momentous, but we will most likely look back at it as merely the first in a series of fights for the soul of Europe. The outpouring of anger and anti-establishment aggression in Europe has only begun. The next countries where the political bulldozers see their chances to act out their long-kept lust for demolition are the Netherlands and France.

“We can no longer think of reconciliation between the opposing views of destruction and progress. The angry old men will not be mollified, their xenophobia cannot be controlled or channeled into constructive cooperation. We, the young, the future of Europe, must push back. Too much time has been lost already.”

Other political pundits cite the views of old people as cause for the unsettling vote, but frankly many of my aging British friends were bitterly opposed to a break from their continental neighbors.

I have no way of knowing whether there are more “angry old men” than “angry young men” in Europe, but taking the good with the bad seems to me to be simply a part of the democratic process.  With gender, ethnic and religious intolerance plaguing almost every phase of rigorous intellectual debate, I would hate to see “age” raised as yet another barrier why people of good will simply can’t get along.

George Washington’s Advice to Alexander Hamilton

George Washington said to Alexander Hamilton (at least according to Lin-Manuel Miranda) that “Winning is easy young man, governing is harder.”  We  need to see what the citizens of Britain and other countries in the European Union do going forward.   Nevertheless, blaming “angry old men” for the plight of the young is far too simple an explanation.