Sunday, July 22, 2018

Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Skin In The Game (Allen Lane, 2018) **


Ha! I couldn't keep thinking throughout the book that mathematician and stock broker Nassim Nicholas Taleb was contractually bound by his publisher to write a book yet had no idea what to write about. "Skin In The Game" is about people making choices that influence other people's lives without having 'skin in the game', and therefore are also not impacted by the choices they make. By itself this seems like a good angle to comment on today's society, but the book never delivers on its promise. Rather, it is a long and repititive tirade about how clever he is, and how dumb the rest of the world, especially the Intelligent Yet Idiots (IYI), which include people such as Stephen Pinker and Noble Prize winners for economy Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. He complains that his papers against the rhetoric of Thomas Pikkety on capitalism never got the attention they deserved.

Taleb's fascination with his own self is so omnipresent in the book that you start wondering which childhood trauma lies at the basis of it. He has to show off, that he speaks and reads in several languages, that he is as comfortable in quoting Aristotle, the bible and quantum physics, that he understands all aspects of religion, history, philosophy, economy, psychology and finance better than anyone else. Taleb is able to judge everybody in every discipline of thought because clearly he is the cleverest of them all.

You find quotes like this on almost every page: "For it looks like you need a lot of intelligence to figure probabilistic things out when you don't have skin in the game. But for an overeducated nonpracticioner, these things are hard to figure out. Unless one is a genius, that is, has the clarity of mind to see through the mud, or has sufficiently profound command of probability theory to cut through the nonsense".

In contrast to "The Black Swan", which I can highly recommend, this book is more a collection of musings and unrelated ideas and accusations with no immediate use in daily life, and yes, his starting point is interesting and true, but not really elaborated upon in a systematic way.

That being said, many of his ideas are thought-provoking and give a different angle to many assumptions that are at least worth considering. Personally, I can agree with many of his ideas, including about Krugman and Stiglitz, but please, do something about your self-obsession.


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