Likewise, the government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at their risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry, their large staff of scientists deem these events 'unlikely.'"
He notes he wrote this in 2003, after talking with Alex Berenson about a NYTimes article on Fannie Mae's risk. But the article, and Nassim's comments in that article, are all about interest rate risk. Fannie Mae's current problem was adjusting the criteria of the underwriting--with the explicit goal of increasing home ownership of minorities--which increased their credit risk. For a guy who spends a lot of time discussing how fraudulent experts and forecasters are because of their hindsight bias, and lack of candor and honest evaluation, he seems to be speaking from first-hand knowledge. Being right for he wrong reason, is not trenchant. And being right when one makes many blanket statements, and calls multiple disasters, is not impressive, because it neglects all the disasters that did not happen: the general strategy of being a chicken little, buying out-of-the-money puts, is a bad general strategy, as Taleb discovered. You aren't evaluated on you best calls you are evaluated on your portfolio. Taleb basically said you might want to short these 50 stocks, and when 1 goes down 90%, says, 'told you so'! Sounds like a lot a brokers I know.
Priorities are essential when talking about risk, because simply listing all the things that can happen, or that 'you should check your assumptions', or that 'you could be wrong', gives one no sense of importance. If Taleb was hired by Fannie Mae to run their Risk Management in 2003, and they adjusted the interest rate risk management as a result, it would not have mattered. As one who criticized economists for not having been traders, he should be wary of criticizing risk management never having been a risk manager (except in the broad sense that everyone, at some level, is a risk manager). A risk manager has to do specific things: generate methods for monitoring risk, limits, reports. What, pray tell, would he do, just write 'shit happens--don't say I didn't tell you!', shut his door and browse the internet?
Trivially, everything is possible, and so we cannot insulate against everything, but you have to do something, and this is based on probabilities and payoffs. Simply listing 50 things or companies that can blow up because anything can happen, and then when one of them blows up, saying 'aha!', highlights the depth of Taleb's understanding of risk, because this vague statement was not actionable. What about all those companies or scenarios that did not happen, what would have happened if you retreated there as well. You can't mention lots of disasters, in no particular order, with no specifics about nature of the risks, and then when something happens claim one was prescient. Further, logically certain statements like 'something unexpected and important will happen' are incapable of being wrong and therefore meaningless. It's like saying, there will be a humanitarian crisis in the Third World next year unless we act now! Of course, we won't, because one needs to be more specific, and something will go wrong, it always does.
The Talebs and David Smicks and Kevin Phillips of the world are all very loud, certain they know something really really important, viz, the world is complicated, and many things can go wrong, or right, in unpredictable ways, and it is getting more so. Now, except for the latter point, this is all indubitibly true, but that observation is not useful to anyone, nor interesting to me.