Nassim Taleb, Wall Street Oracle

Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine since 1996. His 1999 profile of Ron Popeil won a National Magazine Award, and in 2005 he was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. He is the author of four books, including "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference," (2000) , "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" (2005), and "Outliers: The Story of Success" (2008) all of which were number one New York Times bestsellers. His latest book, "What the Dog Saw" (2009) is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker.

From 1987 to 1996, he was a reporter with the Washington Post, where he covered business, science, and then served as the newspaper's New York City bureau chief. He graduated from the University of Toronto, Trinity College, with a degree in history. He was born in England, grew up in rural Ontario, and now lives in New York City.

 

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Malcolm Gladwell:  I wrote about him years ago and he has since become quite famous because basically before the financial crash he was one of those people saying it’s all going to come down.  He was a guy on Wall Street and he ran a hedge fund and his obsession was with the notion that extreme events are more likely than you think. People on Wall Street all had a kind of expectation of how often there would be a catastrophe; they would say it’s a once in a lifetime event, it’s a once in a thousand year event and they had models built on that probability and Nassim would always say—this was back in 2006—it’s not a one in thousand year event, it’s a one in a 10 year event. He was very interested in the sort of on a psychological notion: why is it that human beings are so eager to pretend in the face of all evidence to the contrary that catastrophes are infrequent.

This was something that grew out of his personal background.  His family came from Lebanon, a country that was routinely visited by catastrophe over and over again. He'd had some close brush with death from some weird, rare kind of cancer that he should never have gotten. All these things kind of familiarized himself with the notion that catastrophe was common. Out of that he kind of developed a sort of business model for this.  He began to build a hedge fund, which made money when the unlikely happened. On most days, it would lose money and then when there was a market crash it would make hundreds of millions, even billions. Sure enough when the stock market crashed Nassim made some astonishing amount of money for himself and his investors.

He compelled himself to live in the least pleasant of all worlds. 

Recorded December 16, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd


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