I spent the evening in New York city with my friend Chuck Grimmett to see Nassim Nicholas Taleb at Barnes & Noble Union Square. Taleb was talking about his new book Skin in the Game and since he rarely gives public talks, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.
It was an interesting lecture. Taleb is one of the most original public thinkers alive today. If you’re unfamiliar with him, it will be difficult for me to explain him. He’s a bit of a modern Montaigne and Nietzsche, with some other connections I can’t pin dow. At one point he insisted he take questions only from bald people in the audience.
A few of my readers have asked for soundbites from the talk. I’ve typed my notes below to the best of may ability. Keep in mind these were taken quickly during the talk. The errors and omissions are mine. The good stuff is entirely Taleb.
The pseudo expert problem: you can’t figure out what is going on unless you have contact with reality. You cannot have completely incompetent dentists or assistant colonoscopists. Whenever you have skin int he game the expert is the expert. Whenever you do not, the expert is not an expert. If an academic is judged by reality, he would be an expert. But he’s not because he’s judged by other academics. It doesn’t work.
An anecdote from the restaurant business…a friend of mine…invested in a lot of restaurants and he said there are all these awards and there was an award ceremony at the end of’ the year voted on by the restaurants. Most restaurants that won awards were shut down before the awards.
When 20 or 30 people create a discipline you have citation ring. No expertise. This is the idea of skin in the game. Contact with reality.
On college: Higher education is controlled by tenured professors who want a free living and real estate developers.
Intellectuals yet idiots: When you have some schmuck in Washington who decides on the next invasion…these people have a mental defect..they do not learn because their profession is judged by others in their profession. No contact in to reality. They are not penalized. If they want a regime change in Iran, they should commit to live there.
Minorities rule: Small things, when they don’t cost much, you flip to the preference of the minority. Most drinks are kosher and most meat exported from New Zealand is Halal because people who will eat Halal will not eat otherwise and people who eat otherwise will also eat Halal.
On “I love you:” The word “I love you” is talk. Just talk. A diamond that represents 5 months of salary represents something. That is skin in the game.
Is the Pope an atheist?: The atheist and the secular person are indisguinstuihable. In the past the gods were not suckers. You don’t believe in god without paying some price. You have to sacrifice something. Today in society religion comes for free. The difference between atheists and secularists is nonexistent. The people is atheist in behavior because he pays no price for his beliefs. He might give a story but we don’t care about stories. It’s all talk.
On Trump: When Trump was on stage next to a bunch of empty suit Republicans and people said he was losing 1 billion dollars on his campaign, I knew he would win. Losing money, having a scar, makes you more real.
Against contractors: The Romans new you should never give an important job to anyone other than a slave. You can punish a slave. You can punish an employee much more than a contractor.
Harvard grad or butcher?: If you see two surgeons in a hospital and you walk in and you see two people of equal rank and you need to choose between the two options for surgery, and one has rimmed glasses and a Harvard degree which they have told you about, and the other person looks like a butcher and talks like someone who was displaced from Brooklyn to New Jersey, which one do you choose? The Butcher. If he got there not looking the part, it means he has skills.
On state department employees: Low hormone people.
Skin the game governance: In the 1950’s you had doctors and merchants and notaries in the French National Assembly. They would come make decisions and go back to their homes. Today, the members of the French National Assembly are people who go study in schools and then the parties put them in positions.
On modern food: You have pompous farts invent dishes that are inedible.