Black (Swan) Letter Law

Slate's blog on legal issues.
April 20 2008 4:07 PM

Black (Swan) Letter Law

Setting aside John Paulson , few have benefited from the subprime meltdown more than Nassim Nicholas Taleb , author of Fooled By Randomness and, more recently, The Black Swan .  For the past couple of years, Taleb has made waves by challenging Wall Street's approach to risk management: at risk of dramatically simplifying his analysis, I'd suggest that Taleb argues that people over-expose themselves to the risk of catastrophic events by evaluating information through biased lenses.  (We rely on hindsight narratives to order random information, for example, and pay more attention to history's visible winners than to history's invisible losers.)

For a month or so I've hoped to post a note tying Taleb's work to recent writings of Cass Sunstein and Richard Posner , as well as Francis Fukuyama's excellent edited volume and so forth.  The question of how best to order regulatory institutions to protect against truly unforeseeable catastrophes is perhaps the most exciting aspect of administrative law today, and if I were a professor it would constitute a substantial part of my research agenda.  Unfortunately, briefing deadlines and the like have kept me from writing even a blog post worthy of the subject.

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In the meantime, to those of you looking for some Sunday evening reading material I wholeheartedly recommend two still recent profiles of Taleb (which triggered my interesting in posting a substantive blog item on Taleb):

1.  A recent profile of Taleb [pdf] in the Financial Times's weekly "Lunch With FT" series; and

2.  Bloomberg Magazine's current cover profile [pdf]. 

Also, Malcolm Gladwell profiled Taleb at length [pdf] in the New Yorker back in 2002.  And Taleb summarized his arguments in a recent lecture before the Long Now Foundation .

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