Noted statistician and business philosopher Taleb (Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, 2012, etc.) continues to inform us, none too gently, that we’ve got it all wrong.
“The curse of modernity is that we are increasingly populated by a class of people who are better at explaining than understanding.” The author argues that too much of our received wisdom in governance, finance, and other realms comes from academics and bureaucrats who aren’t taking calculated risks to advance civilization. Taleb reminds us that this “skin in the game” can be quite literal: One poor Persian judge was flayed alive for misconduct, with his son assuming the job on a seat made from his father’s flesh. “Skin in the game,” by the author’s reckoning, is more metaphorical, but nonetheless, it means that almost all of us who are not shielded by institutions and retainers “pay a price for [our] mistakes” and with any luck learn from them. Taleb’s take on things is largely libertarian, though he approvingly quotes a source as saying that this libertarianism is best applied at the federal level, while at the interpersonal level of family and friends, we should be socialists—i.e., share with kin, not with coercers. Even there—and even though Ron Paul is one of the book’s dedicatees—Taleb is no ideological purist. As he notes, even though the ideal of freedom is “one’s first most essential good,” some regulation is in order “if you can’t effectively sue.” The book is written at a high intellectual level, despite the author’s dismissal of intellectualism, and contains some daunting math (relegated to an appendix, happily). Taleb is at his best when he simplifies his arguments down to rules and speaks as a mentor to would-be statist youth, as when he counsels, “You must start a business. Put yourself on the line, start a business.”
Smart and provocative, updating Robert Nozick and Friedrich Hayek while providing plenty of grist for liberal counterargument.