The World is Antifragile

In the 2nd session, we spoke about the bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. Here’s a bit more from HumanProgress.org — The Counter-Intuitive Truth about the World’s Resources (Dec 2018):

Are we running out of resources? That’s been a hotly debated question since the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb in 1968. The Stanford University biologist warned that population growth would result in the exhaustion of resources and a global catastrophe. According to Ehrlich, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate”.

The University of Maryland economist Julian Simon rejected Ehrlich’s thesis. In his 1981 book The Ultimate Resource, he argued that humans were intelligent beings, capable of innovating their way out of shortages through greater efficiency, increased supply, or development of substitutes. He wrote: “There is no physical or economic reason why human resourcefulness and enterprise cannot forever continue to respond to impending shortages and existing problems with new expedients that, after an adjustment period, leave us better off than before the problem arose.

The highlighted bit is another of those counter-intuitive truths. We feel that little good can come out of problems, and it would be better if we never had to face problems. But problems are also opportunities to make things better. All improvements are the result of someone solving problems.

In this context, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder (2012) is a good read. His intro to the book goes:

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

In some sense, the world is antifragile. More particularly, a free-market economy is antifragile, and a centralized command-and-control economy is fragile, as we will see later.

 

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

One thought on “The World is Antifragile”

  1. Sir, I have a doubt regarding fragility of world. It is said that if all the insects disappear the world will be destroyed in 3-4 years time. If all micro organisms disappear, world will get destroyed in 12-18 months. For instance, today due to over usage of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other means, the top soil is getting almost depleted and the micro organisms are also being destroyed. If we are not refraining from this process which destroys micro organisms then that will lead to a huge disaster. In this context, can we say that if micro organisms are not there, will humans be discovering alternate methodologies to save soil and thereby earth?
    Thanks
    Abhilash

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