Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan – a Brilliantly Irreverant Attack on Bildungsphilisters*

For some time now I have had a second-hand exposure to Black Swan theory but this weekend I came face-to-face with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s brilliant writing – a most hedonistic Saturday and Sunday, when uninterrupted by worldly social or work distractions, save a short school assignment, I read Taleb’s The Black Swan cover to cover.

“Erudite” is a word Taleb is fond of using throughout this book in reference to the likes of Benoit Mandelbrot, Sextus Empiricus, Friedrich Hayek, Pierre Bayle, Pierre-Daniel Huet, Michel de Montaigne, etc. to distinguish them from idiot savants from a gamut of disciplines, ranging from mathematics to economics to the social sciences to philosophy to “professional” risk and – ouch!- intelligence analysts.

All this name dropping might make one think that Mr Taleb falls into the category of the latter, but nothing could be further from the truth (my version of it). This is an author – philosopher by vocation, mathematician and trader by profession – with some remarkably fresh ideas and a sense of humour that is more aesthetic than cynical.

I will not attempt to describe what this book is about beyond the standard reference to Taleb’s Black Swan theory, i.e. low probability high impact events. Chance is something that impacts life on all levels, hence the book can be of interest to just about anyone: writers in temporary Starbucks jobs, 9-5 accountants, the great great great son of one of Catherine The Great’s 12 lovers, high-brow-brown-nosed-self-perpetuating academics, gamblers or crooks or entrepreneurs, the military (any), Casanova wanna-be’s, testosterone-ridden overachievers (either male or female), Muslims, Christians, Greek Orthodox, mystics, sceptics, Richard Dawkinseans…ad infinitum.

Thank you, Mr Taleb, for the exquisite pleasure of reading your book! Of course, given your disregard for blogs, the probability of your stumbling upon this review of not your book, but its impact on a random reader, is sadly negligible. Yet, the inspiration it has aroused might well have a deeper impact.

* A Bildungsphilister (a neologism: Bildung + philistine) is “a philistine with cosmetic, nongenuine culture. Nietzsche used this term to refer to the dogma-prone newspaper reader and opera lover with cosmetic exposure to culture and shallow depth. I extend it to the buzzword-using researcher in nonexperimental fields who lacks in imagination, curiosity, erudition, and culture and is closely centered on his ideas, on his “discipline”. This prevents him from seeing the conflicts between his ideas and the texture of the world.” NNT

INTSUM: Afghanistan – a New Migration Destination for Kyrgyz Workers

While the majority of Kyrgyz economic migrants still seek better opportunities in the booming economies of northern neighbors Russia and Kazakhstan, some are turning instead to conflict-ridden Afghanistan, where higher security risks are compensated with higher wages. A major source of employment for south-bound Kyrgyz migrants are US private contractors in Afghanistan. The US State Department has stated that it employs some 29, 000 private contractors there, many of whom are neither US nor Afghan citizens, but third country nationals (TCNs), who despite harsh and often dangerous conditions, are lured by the much higher wages.

Analysis:

Given the small number of Afghanistan-bound Kyrgyz migrants, it is unlikely that this trend will have any severe short-term impacts on Kyrgyz economy. In fact, those returning to their homeland with accumulated capital, are likely to have a positive impact in the area of SME development in Kyrgyzstan. However, given the general trend in migration causality from politico-ideological to economic, such a trend is likely to have more long-term consequences, which would be difficult to predict, and may even fall under a Black Swan category. One likely psychological outcome may well be a diminished sense of risk aversion in the segment of population that is facing exceedingly gloomy employment prospects at home.

Source Reliability: 8

Analytic Confidence: 8