Strong Towns on “what the pandemic reveals about the fragility of our institutions.”


As the economy “reopens,” think there might be time to squeeze in a revolution or three?

Designer masks, designer pitchforks.

Not a Black Swan: Nassim Taleb on What the Coronavirus Teaches Us About Our Institutions

… Not only have epidemiologists been sounding the alarm and urging pandemic preparedness for many years, but so have many scholars who study risk, randomness, and uncertainty. This includes our era’s veritable prophet of risk and uncertainty: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who co-authored a January 26th paper warning that the spread of COVID-19 would be “nonlinear” and potentially severe.

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Taleb’s interest is in what the pandemic reveals about the fragility of our institutions. The story historians tell about COVID-19 may prove to be less about the disease and more about its rapidly cascading effects on governmental and financial systems that have, for years, been more or less rigged to blow.

How do we build systems of governance and distribution (of food, medicines, energy, and other essential products of civilization) that can handle mounting random events like a global disease outbreak? Taleb is critical of “just-in-time” supply chains and production schedules, of “too big to fail” institutions, and of the hubris of those in power who attempt to manage risk without adequate contingency plans, believing that the future can be predicted from the average circumstances we’ve experienced so far (a delusion Taleb calls “naive empiricism”).

The correct response, according to Taleb, is to decentralize power and flatten hierarchies, creating institutions that more closely mimic the redundancy of organic, natural systems. This allows pieces of a complex system to fail without endangering the whole.