Speaking of “stable geniuses”…
That’s Nassim Taleb and in case you’re somehow unaware, he’s a risk-managin‘, mathematizin‘, philosophizin‘, stone-liftin‘, best-seller-writin‘, Spanish-gypsy-huntin‘, Third-World-country-polluted-water-drinkin‘, madman.
To be fair, Taleb actually is a genius of some stripe so it’s not entirely accurate to paint him with the Trump brush, but there is exactly no sense in which he is “stable”.
In fact, what seems to have happened over the years is that, increasingly aware of his own genius, Taleb did what lots of geniuses do: he became an eccentric and in the process, a caricature of himself.
Early last year, we were cut off from the wellspring of wisdom that is Taleb’s official Twitter account when he blocked us, apparently in response to our satirical posts, an archive of which you can find here.
It would be impossible to go into the entire Taleb backstory, but suffice to say he fancies himself a Renaissance man to the nth power and in a testament to that, here’s a quick list of things he does when he’s not writing bestsellers, mathematizing, or making money:
- lifts stones
- goes spelunking in search of Spanish Gypsies
- drinks water in Third World countries to strengthen his immune system
- Twitter shames Scandinavians for talking too loud on their cell phones while riding the Metro North
- does lots of deadlifts with Coach Rippetoe
- makes fun of economists for not doing enough deadlifting
- asks you to guess how much he can shoulder press and then tells you he doesn’t trust your estimates
- thinks about whether he should head-load water to strengthen his bones
Important note: all of that is real. Every one of those bullet points is derived from something he’s either said or posted an actual picture of on Twitter, so we’re hardly being unfair in our assessment.
Well apparently, Taleb wrote the forward for a book on Bitcoin by Saifedean Ammous and predictably, its inherent usefulness as a framework is almost completely undermined by his pretentiousness.
“Let us follow the logic of things from the beginning. Or, rather, from the end: modern times”, Taleb muses in what is a sure sign that what comes next isn’t likely to disappoint in terms of pretensions to profundity.
He goes on to remind you that everyone who isn’t a dentist is a pseudo-expert and that of course includes economists (Greenspan and Bernanke get swan-slapped).
Eventually, he gets around to a Hayek reference (ok fine, but you only get one of those) on the way “explaining” why Bitcoin is “an excellent idea”. To wit:
It fulfills the needs of the complex system, not because it is a cryptocurrency, but precisely because it has no owner, no authority that can decide on its fate. It is owned by the crowd, its users. And it has now a track record of several years, enough for it to be an animal in its own right.
Ok, look. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it another thousand times if we have to. This notion that “no authority” can doom Bitcoin isn’t true. Almost everyone needs an exchange. No, you cannot stop two determined parties from swapping Bitcoin for dollars, but the vast majority of people participating in this market are not “determined parties”. They are speculators and their interest in participating will ebb and flow with how easy it is for them to participate. If governments shutter the exchanges or if central banks make convertibility into traditional currencies a crime, well then the vast majority of people are just going to say “fuck it”, because it’s not worth the effort. That’s not an attempt to say anything bad about Bitcoin or about Taleb’s assessment, it’s just an attempt to communicate the reality that people are ignorant and lazy.
Taleb goes on to take a jab at “virtue-signaling coffee chains” (because that’s definitely relevant to this discussion) before concluding that while Bitcoin itself “may fail”, the fact that it came into existence serves as a reminder to governments that if they fuck up too badly, their monopoly on currencies can be challenged. That, Taleb says, “is an insurance policy against an Orwellian future.”
Do you know what the tragedy here is? The tragedy is that the piece (linked above) is actually pretty good. But unfortunately, Taleb has put everyone in a position where the knee-jerk reaction to anything he writes is laughter.
Of course he doesn’t see it that way which, again, is a damn shame because Taleb has a lot to offer. The quickest way to make people not take you seriously is to make it clear that you take yourself far too seriously.