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Can experts predict black swans?

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Kay Wise

Principal Consultant

Tag: Public Policy
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Fat tails and black swans are terms authors use to focus on possibilities beyond our experience. Before the discovery of Australia, Europeans assumed there were no black swans. Nasim Taleb in his book, The Black Swan, contends that seeing a million white swans cannot lead to the knowledge of a black one.  But Mohammed Baharoon writes, "The fact that a black swan, exists, here or somewhere else, or even may exist in a different time or space, does not make knowledge of white swans wrong."  This first forum article asks the question whether experts can indeed offer sound predictions based on experience.  What do you think?

Nasim Taleb grew up in a Lebanon that had been peaceably multi-cultural for hundreds of years until suddenly it wasnt.  He spent a significant part of his high school years hiding in shelters from the Lebanese civil war.  He  suggests that no one knew it was coming, although they later rationalized why it came; and the same for the 9/11 attacks. 
Living in Dubai highlights  a difference between cultures in acknowledgement of Black Swans.  Most Americans act on a belief that they can affect the future; most people here do not.  Ensh Allah ( God Willing) is not a throw away expression.  Nasim came from a culture that assumes an indeterminancy in life and says,  for example, God willing, I will meet you for breakfast in the morning."
Despite Nasims forceful arguments to the contrary, Im not yet ready to give up on listening to experts. Years of analysis of politics and human behavior led Dr. Ken Wise to predict in the mid 1980s that the Soviet Empire was doomed. He didnt know when, but he did know why and that the time was coming soon.  He also predicted with visceral certainty and officially-ignored evidence in 2002 that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction--before the US invasion.
Our current question for experts is:  do you believe that experts can know (and help us prepare) for the fallout from massive government stimulus of economies across the globe?
If you have an opinion on this subject and feel qualified to join our panel of experts, we want to hear from you. 


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