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Skin in the Game
Cover of Skin in the Game
Skin in the Game
Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Black Swan, a bold new work that challenges many of our long-held beliefs about risk and reward, politics and religion, finance and personal responsibility

In his most provocative and practical book yet, one of the foremost thinkers of our time redefines what it means to understand the world, succeed in a profession, contribute to a fair and just society, detect nonsense, and influence others. Citing examples ranging from Hammurabi to Seneca, Antaeus the Giant to Donald Trump, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows how the willingness to accept one's own risks is an essential attribute of heroes, saints, and flourishing people in all walks of life.

As always both accessible and iconoclastic, Taleb challenges long-held beliefs about the values of those who spearhead military interventions, make financial investments, and propagate religious faiths. Among his insights:

For social justice, focus on symmetry and risk sharing. You cannot make profits and transfer the risks to others, as bankers and large corporations do. You cannot get rich without owning your own risk and paying for your own losses. Forcing skin in the game corrects this asymmetry better than thousands of laws and regulations.
Ethical rules aren't universal. You're part of a group larger than you, but it's still smaller than humanity in general.
Minorities, not majorities, run the world. The world is not run by consensus but by stubborn minorities imposing their tastes and ethics on others.
You can be an intellectual yet still be an idiot. "Educated philistines" have been wrong on everything from Stalinism to Iraq to low-carb diets.
Beware of complicated solutions (that someone was paid to find). A simple barbell can build muscle better than expensive new machines.
True religion is commitment, not just faith. How much you believe in something is manifested only by what you're willing to risk for it.

The phrase "skin in the game" is one we have often heard but rarely stopped to truly dissect. It is the backbone of risk management, but it's also an astonishingly complex worldview that, as Taleb shows in this book, applies to all aspects of our lives.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Black Swan, a bold new work that challenges many of our long-held beliefs about risk and reward, politics and religion, finance and personal responsibility

In his most provocative and practical book yet, one of the foremost thinkers of our time redefines what it means to understand the world, succeed in a profession, contribute to a fair and just society, detect nonsense, and influence others. Citing examples ranging from Hammurabi to Seneca, Antaeus the Giant to Donald Trump, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows how the willingness to accept one's own risks is an essential attribute of heroes, saints, and flourishing people in all walks of life.

As always both accessible and iconoclastic, Taleb challenges long-held beliefs about the values of those who spearhead military interventions, make financial investments, and propagate religious faiths. Among his insights:

For social justice, focus on symmetry and risk sharing. You cannot make profits and transfer the risks to others, as bankers and large corporations do. You cannot get rich without owning your own risk and paying for your own losses. Forcing skin in the game corrects this asymmetry better than thousands of laws and regulations.
Ethical rules aren't universal. You're part of a group larger than you, but it's still smaller than humanity in general.
Minorities, not majorities, run the world. The world is not run by consensus but by stubborn minorities imposing their tastes and ethics on others.
You can be an intellectual yet still be an idiot. "Educated philistines" have been wrong on everything from Stalinism to Iraq to low-carb diets.
Beware of complicated solutions (that someone was paid to find). A simple barbell can build muscle better than expensive new machines.
True religion is commitment, not just faith. How much you believe in something is manifested only by what you're willing to risk for it.

The phrase "skin in the game" is one we have often heard but rarely stopped to truly dissect. It is the backbone of risk management, but it's also an astonishingly complex worldview that, as Taleb shows in this book, applies to all aspects of our lives.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Chapter 1

    Why Each One Should Eat His Own Turtles: Equality in Uncertainty

    Taste of turtle—Where are the new customers?—Sharia and asymmetry—There are the Swiss, and other people—Rav Safra and the Swiss (but different Swiss)

    You who caught the turtles better eat them, goes the ancient adage.

    The origin of the expression is as follows. It was said that a group of fishermen caught a large number of turtles. After cooking them, they found out at the communal meal that these sea animals were much less edible than they thought: not many members of the group were willing to eat them. But Mercury happened to be passing by—Mercury was the most multitasking, sort of put-together god, as he was the boss of commerce, abundance, messengers, the underworld, as well as the patron of thieves and brigands and, not surprisingly, luck. The group invited him to join them and offered him the turtles to eat. Detecting that he was only invited to relieve them of the unwanted food, he forced them all to eat the turtles, thus establishing the principle that you need to eat what you feed others.

    A Customer Is Born Every Day

    I have learned a lesson from my own naive experiences:

    Beware of the person who gives advice, telling you that a certain action on your part is "good for you" while it is also good for him, while the harm to you doesn't directly affect him.

    Of course such advice is usually unsolicited. The asymmetry is when said advice applies to you but not to him—he may be selling you something, or trying to get you to marry his daughter or hire his son-in-law.

    Years ago I received a letter from a lecture agent. His letter was clear; it had about ten questions of the type "Do you have the time to field requests?," "Can you handle the organization of the trip?" The gist of it was that a lecture agent would make my life better and make room for the pursuit of knowledge or whatever else I was about (a deeper understanding of gardening, stamp collections, Mediterranean genetics, or squid-ink recipes) while the burden of the gritty would fall on someone else. And it wasn't any lecture agent: only he could do all these things; he reads books and can get in the mind of intellectuals (at the time I didn't feel insulted by being called an intellectual). As is typical with people who volunteer unsolicited advice, I smelled a rat: at no phase in the discussion did he refrain from letting me know that it was "good for me."

    As a sucker, while I didn't buy into the argument, I ended up doing business with him, letting him handle a booking in the foreign country where he was based. Things went fine until, six years later, I received a letter from the tax authorities of that country. I immediately contacted him to wonder if similar U.S. citizens he had hired incurred such tax conflict, or if he had heard of similar situations. His reply was immediate and curt: "I am not your tax attorney"—volunteering no information as to whether other U.S. customers who hired him because it was "good for them" encountered such a problem.

    Indeed, in the dozen or so cases I can pull from memory, it always turns out that what is presented as good for you is not really good for you but certainly good for the other party. As a trader, you learn to identify and deal with upright people, those who inform you that they have something to sell, by explaining that the transaction arises for their own benefit, with such questions as "Do you have an ax?" (meaning an inquiry whether you have a certain interest). Avoid at all costs those who call you to tout a certain product disguised with advice. In fact the story of the...
About the Author-
  • Nassim Nicholas Taleb spent twenty-one years as a risk taker before becoming a researcher in philosophical, mathematical, and (mostly) practical problems with probability. Although he spends most of his time as a flâneur, meditating in cafés across the planet, he is currently Distinguished Professor at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering. His books, part of a multivolume collection called Incerto, have been published in thirty-six languages. Taleb has authored more than fifty scholarly papers as backup to Incerto, ranging from international affairs and risk management to statistical physics. Having been described as "a rare mix of courage and erudition," he is widely recognized as the foremost thinker on probability and uncertainty. Taleb lives mostly in New York.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    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.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Online Review)

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Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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