Oct 15, 2013

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

There are books that move you, books that make you go "hmmm...interesting", and once in a long while, a book appears that completely changes the way you look at the world.

"Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, for me, is such a book. 

What is the opposite of fragile? Most people would say "robust", but the author offers a different answer - antifragile. 

We all know that something that is fragile breaks or fails easily due to external stressors, like a porcelain cup; a robust object is resistant to external stressors and does not break or fail easily; an antifragile object, however, thrives on external, random stressors and becomes stronger because of it.

The author offers many examples of fragile things in the book, among them the US financial system and the Fukushima nuclear reactor, which react to negative Black Swan events (the subject of the author's previous book) with catastrophic results. The subprime mortgage crisis was the Black Swan event of the financial system, and a tsunami of biblical proportions took the Fukushima reactor totally by surprise.

Of the many examples mentioned in the book, if the author were more familiar with Singapore, he would have had a field day pointing out the numerous fragilities in our current lightning party led government.

Several notable Black Swan events for the PAP, highlighting their fragility:
  • 2011 GE results - Although not enough to topple the esteemed party, winning scarcely over 60% of the popular vote the loss of a GRC (a whole GRC!) to the opposition was sufficient to shake their belief of eternal rule to the core. Following a softening of attitude to the public immediately after the elections, they have recently reverted to their old heavy-handed ways since nobody with half a brain believed a word of it.
  • Orchard Road flash floods - The sleeping bureaucracy, probably too comfortable in their air-conditioned offices, were totally blindsided by this one, imagine a flash flood in the middle of the premier tourist shopping district of Singapore! We know that the problem goes even deeper than that, because the floods are happening everywhere. One doesn't expect these sorts of "third-world" problems to occur in developed Singapore, don't they?
  • Punggol East by-election - It took one small Black Swanette of an event (Michael Palmer's resignation due to an affair with a PA staff member), and the PAP's fragile reaction to the event (parachuting an unknown Koh Poh Koon, who didn't know how to keep his "elite" mouth shut) to trigger another Black Swan event - losing Punggol East to the WP, again.
The esteemed former MM has just celebrated his 90th birthday last month, but given the PAP's "proven track record" for dealing with Black Swans, how would it react to probably the greatest Black Swan (well technically not a Black Swan due to its inevitability, but you get my drift) of them all? 

1 comment:

Noor-ul-Ain Arshad said...

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