Date: June 17th, 2011
Cate: Risk & Stability, Systems

The Black Swan of Cairo: The law of conservation of risk

I don’t agree with everything Taleb proposes, but his last two papers have been very interesting. Here is a link to the Journal of Foreign Affairs paper: The Black Swan of Cairo If one assumes what I would call conservation of risk or entropy then the argument Taleb seems to make in the paper is that by covering up a political/economic system with oppression to “protect” visible stability, all one is doing is masking underlying instability.  Eventually the “stable” system will become fragile at the surface or visible layer.

My own interpretation is that there is a “conservation” of entropic variance in any system and that if one dampens a variable long enough, the system will either collapse or overwhelm the dampening mechanism due to the system’s entropic reserves which are stored somewhere else in the system state.

A shorter version of this idea is a “conservation of risk law” similar but not a total analog to the physics principals of conservation of mass, matter and energy.  The idea being that a risk (potential undesired or unforseen system state) doesn’t disappear, it is merely transferred or suppressed in the present measured state only to manifest itself in the future. The risk entropy of system doesn’t disappear.

CDO’s, bad accounting, debt obfuscation and faith in co-variance based asset diversification are financial examples of this.  In systems engineering it is over-engineering the complexity of the safety mechanisms to such a degree that they induce accidents or failures greater than what they were designed to mitigate.


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