I had the privilege of interviewing Nassim Nicholas Taleb a fortnight ago, and the resulting “Q&A” is published in this week’s New Statesman. Taleb is the author of the bestselling book The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable — described in the Times as one of the 12 most influential books since the Second World War.
Bryan Appleyard has called Taleb “the hottest thinker in the world”. He also happens to be one of a handful of commentators who can claim to have predicted the Great Crash of 2008.
I’ve been a fan of Taleb ever since I saw him take apart the former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff in this Newsnight discussion, in which he condemned economists for explaining events “after the fact” and for using “bogus measures of risk”.
His attacks on the bankers and the economics profession (“charlatans”, is how he refers to them in the interview), as well as on militant atheists (again, “charlatans”), are as intellectually robust as they are amusing and acerbic.
His Twitter feed is full of humour, wisdom and insight.
So I was astonished — and, as a long-standing critic of the cult of Cameron, frustrated! — to hear Taleb tell me that he regards David Cameron as “extraordinary”. Here’s the relevant exchange:
Here in the UK, the government is giving even more power to our central bank.
Your new government is at least conscious. You don’t have the Office of Management and Budget, which never forecasts anything right.
We’ll soon have an office of budget control.
But here they understand. David Cameron understands expert problems. He is extraordinary.
You have described him as “the best thing we have left on this planet”.
Exactly. I went to Washington, and the discourse had nothing to do with the real problem. And I thought, “He’s the only thing we have left.”
Let’s be clear: in my view, Cameron is undoubtedly a bright guy, a brilliant tactician and a wiser leader of the Conservatives than his immediate predecessors.I know that Vernon Bogdanor, his old tutor at Oxford, has described the PM as one of the “ablest students” he ever taught and that he achieved a First in PPE from Brasenose College. Cameron, then, is no Dubbya-style dullard.
But “the best thing we have left on this planet”? “The only thing we have left”? “Extraordinary”? I’m not sure even Sam Cam would agree with such over-the-top and effusive praise for her husband, even if it does come from the radical and original thinker behind the theory of Black Swan events .
I guess being one of the cleverest men on the planet doesn’t make you immune from having bad judgement.