Talking Money with... Nassim Nicholas Taleb
People ask me my forecast for the economy when they should be asking me what I have in my portfolio. Don’t make pronouncements on what could happen in the future if you’re immune from the consequences. In French, they use the same word for wallet and portfolio.
I have never, ever borrowed a penny. So I have zero credit record. No loans, no mortgage, nothing. Ever. When I had no money, I rented. I have an allergy to borrowing and a scorn for people who are in debt, and I don’t hide it. I follow the Romans’ attitude that debtors are not free people.
I carry euros, dollars, and British pounds. What I do with my money is personal. People who say they give it to charity, that’s a no-no in my book. Nobody should ever talk about a charitable act
Better to miss a zillion opportunities than blow up once. I learned this at my first job, from the veteran traders at a New York bank that no longer exists. Most people don’t understand how to handle uncertainty. They shy away from small risks, and without realising it, they embrace the big, big risk. Businessmen who are consistently successful have the exact opposite attitude: Make all the mistakes you want, just make sure you’re going to be there tomorrow.
Don’t invest any energy in bargaining except when the zeros become large. Lose the small games and save your efforts for the big ones.
There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, so long as you pay the price. A used-car salesman speaks well, they’re convincing, but ultimately, they are benefiting even if someone else is harmed by their advice. A bulls****er is not someone who’s wrong, it’s someone who’s insulated from their mistakes.
There is less ‘skin in the game’ today than there was 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. More people determine the fates of others without having to pay the consequences. Skin in the game means you own your own risk. It means people who make decisions in any walk of life should never be insulated from the consequences of those decisions, period. If you’re a helicopter repairman, you should be a helicopter rider. If you decide to invade Iraq, the people who vote for it should have children in the military. And if you’re making economic decisions, you should bear the cost if you’re wrong.
Ninety-eight percent of Americans — plumbers, dentists, bus drivers — have skin in the game. We have to worry about the two percent — the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else.
Thirty years ago, the French National Assembly was composed of shop owners, farmers, doctors, veterinarians, and small-town lawyers — people involved in daily activities. Today, it’s entirely composed of professional politicians — people who are just divorced from real life. America is a little better, but it’s heading that way.
Money can’t buy happiness, but the absence of money can cause unhappiness. Money buys freedom: intellectual freedom, freedom to choose who you vote for, to choose what you want to do professionally. But having what I call ‘f-you’ money requires a huge amount of discipline. The minute you go a penny over, then you lose your freedom again. If money is the cause of your worry, then you have to restructure your life.
The best money I’ve ever spent has been spent on books. The stupidest thing I’ve ever spent money on? Books. Also, I cannot understand why anyone would spend any amount to enhance their social status.