Also published at Business and Politics, 25 August 2009
Ironic that neither David Cameron nor Nassim Nicolas Taleb seemed to be quite prepared for the risks they ran at the rather odd RSA ‘debate’ event. Yet they emerged unscathed.
Both guys seemed surprised: Cameron during the event that NNT was going to introduce subject matter that wasn’t on the Tory agenda. Taleb’s revelation came afterwards at a media mauling and at the obvious fact that not all of the press in this country would be on side. Given his assertion that news is entertainment it should not have been that big a shock that The Mirror should express ‘outrage’ at his rather complex opinions.
What was Mandelbrotian complexity was ever going to have to with bumper sticker policy was never clear. NNT had been the darling of the bank bashers … overnight he became Philosopher to the Tories. NNT’s own agenda was to tell the world it’s going to hell in an over-leveraged handcart.
The risk lesson for every aspiring PM could easily have been ‘don’t mess with complicated stuff’. What was Cameron supposed to do if Taleb came up with a persuasive argument? Argue back? Change policy there and then? Philosophers don’t necessarily provide the policies you need for votes. Nuance is always off message. NNT found that even in the more intelligent British press, nuance is off message there too.
That was what I wrote until I was about to post and then in interview with Channel 4 Taleb hands gold to the Conservatives. ‘You and your party may be the only hope for a resilient society insulated from black swans’. ‘Only hope’ is a slogan coup and a half. Forget that what our Levantine thinker probably meant was that DC is the only person likely to be elected soon to lead a major government with its own currency together with the political room to start to work down debt.
In the aftermath The Economist called Cameron brave…although not for that bizarre encounter. The genuine bravery of the debate will probably not be repeated. That same edition points out the difficulty President Obama has in getting his Afghan/Pakistan policy on to a bumper sticker.
Politicians who need winning policies may well be best advised by philosophers in more private surroundings.
Truth is complicated stuff.
Update: thanks to RSA for opportunity to show the debate
The posts below have been moved to 'We are all Mad Men now'. The original post by (Bestshow)Watch was inadvertently misposted here.