Nassim Taleb Speaks About His Conversation With David Cameron

12 05 2010

David Cameron (above) became Prime Minister of the UK last night. The more I hear about Cameron, the more impressed with the guy.  What sort of man is Cameron? Cameron rebuilt the British Conservative Party by moving it to the centre and by embracing environmental issues. In fact, Cameron argues that conserving the planet should be a conservative priority. Another clue to Cameron’s character is his reading habits. I recently learned that Cameron has read The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is one of our generation’s leading thinkers. Actually, Taleb is probably the world’s best example of a public intellectual since John Maynard Keynes. Taleb is a bestselling author, a university professor in risk engineering, a philosopher of science who works in the fields of probability and statistics.  He is also a Wall Street hedge fund manager or “quant” with a proven track record of success.  Among other things, he predicted the 2008 sub-prime meltdown.  He reminds me a little bit of Keynes in that Keynes was an active stock trader as well as being an academic economist.

Taleb has had some very intelligent things to say about how we manage risk as a society. He has invoked the precautionary principle in explaining why we should act to avert climate change even if all of the science isn’t. He draws fascinating parallels between different types of complex systems– financial, social, the climate in the course of articulating a _radically_ conservative view of the world that is based around disturbing existing systems as little as possible. Taleb’s theories suggest that the so-called conservatives of the United States are not really conservatives at all because they are willing to countenance massive man-made change in the climate.

It turns out that David Cameron has had a long conversation with Taleb. I’m pleasantly surprised that a working politician would read books of the sort Taleb writes and then take the time to invite the author for a conversation.  Cameron is a truly impressive figure.

In this clip, Taleb talks about his conversation with Cameron.

Here, Taleb explains his term Black Swan.


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