Last April, I wrote about Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan. One of his later books, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (2014), is also an intriguing read. Taleb points out that many things/systems are “Anti-Fragile” – beyond strong or durable. Something that is durable resists stress but something Anti-Fragile gets better as a result of stress. The human body is an example. Endure the stress of rigorous work outs over a long period of time and the body improves as a result. The system gets better because of stress not just resisting damage but getting stronger and fitter because of it. That notion has big implications for dealing with risk and uncertainty.
Anyway, Taleb is pompous and brutally direct in his writing style. He writes that “Quants” (big money traders and hedge fund managers) don’t care if academics criticize his theories because it would be like prostitutes listening to technical commentary from nuns about sex.
Sex and money have things in common – both are undeniably, powerfully captivating aspects of human existence. The writer James Baldwin once said “Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you thought of nothing else if you didn’t have it and thought of other things if you did.” Wealth and power are seamy. Money and sex (and politics) are all a bit dirty. That’s because wealth is adversarial, conflictual – it’s “held against” others. Property ownership has always been coercive, as explained in my first post on this blog. It’s war and war is not nice. Good wealth planning and economic understanding recognizes the raw, darker aspects of humanity including greed, force and brute power over others.
Taleb’s also right in that good advice comes from someone who rolls their sleeves up and becomes immersed in the topic at hand – someone who gets down and dirty into the practical, not just the theoretical. You wouldn’t want an obese personal trainer and you don’t need estate planning advice from someone who does it part time, just writes about it or who has not been successful in business. I’m in the trenches with my clients – a happy warrior in the competitive struggle to live securely well. As moral warfare rages among public intellectuals, recognize that the acquisition of assets and protection of wealth from others is an unpleasant necessity in our hostile economic environment. It’s hardcore. More on the hardwiring of the human mind for battle in next week’s Estate Planning War Chest.