The plight of the Ghanian rice farmer

-“Rice farming was one of the successes of the post-independence economy, because it was supported by government subsidies and there was a ban on foreign imports.”
-In the 80s they wanted to improve rice production by developing irrigation systems, so they got loans from the IMF and World Bank on the condition it liberalize their markets. This meant ending the subsidies and allowing foreign imports
-Surprise! Cheap foreign rice now flooded the market, mostly from American farmers. Which is cool because guess what? America subsidizes its rice farmers.
-So now everyone buys the “cheaper, higher quality” rice from America and the Ghanian rice industry has collapsed.

Rise of Extremism

“In many ways the rise of extremism is in direct correlation to the decline of truly radical alternatives to Western domination. Once you give up on overthrowing the unjust social order it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to find spiritual salvation.”

For context, he’s been discussing Islamic Extremism, and this point seems to be mostly with regard to that.

Radicalism

“As Angela Davis explained, ‘radical simply means grasping things at the root’. Radicalism is based on rejecting the fundamental principles that govern society and creating a new paradigm.”

He’s using this to contrast against “extremism,” which “is based on taking the fundamental principles of an idea to the extreme. Making them solid absolutes with no room for flexibility or different interpretations.”

Common attributes of sector bubbles

“In a 2016 paper called Bubbles for Fama, economists Robin Greenwood, Andrei Schleifer, and Yang You identified a set of common attributes across 41 different sector bubbles in U.S. stocks going back to 1928. Among the recurring themes: A sharp increase in volatility, a sharp increase in share issuance, a preference among investors for new firms and an accelerating slope of the rally.”

-From Joe’s note in the Bloomberg Open email

Against Forecasting

“And in that strange profession of people who work with volatility, there were two types. First category, academics, report-writers, and commentators who study future events and write books and papers; and, second category, practitioners who, instead of studying future events, try to understand how things react to volatility (but practitioners are usually too busy practitioning to write books, articles, papers, speeches, equations, theories and get honored by Highly Constipated and Honorable Members of Academies). The difference between the two categories is central: as we saw, it is much easier to understand if something is harmed by volatility– hence fragile– than try to forecast harmful events, such as these oversized Black Swans. But only practitioners (or people who do things) tend to spontaneously get the point.”

p. 12-13

Heuristics

“Heuristics are simplified rules of thumb that make things simple and easy to implement. But their main advantage is that the user knows that they are not perfect, just expedient, and is therefore less fooled by their powers. They become dangerous when we forget that.”

p. 11

Fragilistas

“he defaults to thinking that what he doesn’t see is not there, or what he does not understand does not exist. At the core, he tends to mistake the unknown for the nonexistent.

The fragilista falls for the Soviet-Harvard delustion, the (unscientific) overestimation of the reach of scientific knowledge. Because of such delusion, he is what is called a naive rationalist, a rationalizer, or sometimes just a rationalist, in the sense that he believes that the reasons behind things are automatically accessible to him. And let us not confuse rationalizing with rational– the two are almost always exact opposites. Outside of physics, and generally in complex domains, the reasons behind things have had a tendency to make themselves less obvious to us, and even less to the fragilista. This property of natural things not to advertise themselves in a user’s manual is, alas, not much of a hindrance: some fragilistas will get together to write the user’s manual themselves, thanks to their definition of “science.”

So thanks to the fragilista, modern culture has been increasingly building blindness tot he mysterious, the impenetrable, what Nietzsche called the Dionysian, in life.

Or to translate Nietzsche into the less poetic but no less insightful Brooklyn vernacular, this is what our character Fat Tony calls a “sucker game.”

In short, the fragilista (medical, economic, social planning) is one who makes you engage in policies and actions, all artificial, in which the benefits are small and visible, and the side effects potentially severe and invisible.”

p. 9-10

Neomania

“Now for reasons that have to do with the increase of the artificial, the move away from ancestral and natural models, and the loss in robustness owing to complications in the design of everything, the role of Black Swans is increasing. Further, we are victims to a new disease, called in this book neomania, that makes us build Black Swan-vulnerable systems– “progress.””

The Soviet-Harvard Delusion

“And such antifragility-at-the-cost-of-fragility-of-others is hidden– given the blindness to antifragility by the Soviet-Harvard intellectual circles, this asymmetry is rarely identified and never taught. Further, as we discovered during the financial crisis that started in 2008, these blowup risks-to-others are easily concealed owing to the growing complexity of modern institutions and political affairs. While in the past people of rank or status were those and only those who took risks, who had the downside for their actions, and heroes were those who did so for the sake of others, today the exact reverse is taking place. We are witnessing the rise of a new class of inverse heroes, that is, bureaucrats, bankers, Davos-attending members of the I.A.N.D. (International Association of Name Droppers), and academics with too much power and no real downside and/or accountability. They game the system while citizens pay the price.

At no point in history have so many non-risk-takers, that is, those with no personal exposure, exerted so much control.”
p. 6-7

Peaks of power

The Holy Land
The Bosphorus
Rome
Gibraltar
Belgium
Moscow
I-95
The Persian Gulf
India
Beijing
Japan