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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Is Imran Khan the Captain to get us through Black Swan events?

Author, bright young academic, looks at the leadership of Imran Khan, confronting "Black Swan" events in Pakistan in the context of Naseem Taleb's latest book, "Antifragility." She examines if Imran Khan has been taking decisions in blind and surviving?

In the past few months the COVID-19 crisis, the PIA air crash, the decisions around lockdowns and the rise in Corona cases can aptly be described as what Naseem Nicholas Taleb, author of the famous, “The Black Swan” has identified and calls “antifragile” in his latest book. It is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish. 

Imran Khan: dealing with the Black Swan events?

Naseem Nicholas Taleb states that the resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the anti-fragile gets better and better. The Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan is not far removed from much of what Taleb posits.

Imran Khan, according to Taleb, offers a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world. Decision making under opacity is what PM Imran Khan has been good at. Not only has PM Imran Khan balanced poverty against a fragile economy, he has made attempts at keeping the healthcare system in check and has ensured his people are not suffering layoffs, the rate at which they are being laid-off the world over.

Read More: Analysis: Will Prime Minister Imran Khan take a vote of confidence?

Naseem offers to focus on some key takeaways in Antifragility which very well may serve the context of our society. He argues that some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.

Pakistan: Example of Taleb’s Antifragility?

So far Pakistan has emerged as a nation that has offered food, homes, support and shelters to the destitute and has been there to serve its people through a government income support disbursement. But more importantly it has reinforced its tenacity in the world again by showing how we as a country can survive in the worst of situations.

Our schools and universities have gone online, our surgical masks manufacturers have thrived, our billion tree tsunami has offered employment to the daily wagers, we have been able to find time to watch Ertugral and find ways to emulate it in our daily lives not to mention have a stronger bond with our Turkish brothers.

Last but not the least, we have reinforced what our Prime Minister had mentioned in the UN General Assembly that niqab is not to be looked down upon and have become better devout Muslims finding hope in Allah’s words and prayers…thus becoming “Antifragile.”

We have never experienced anything like this before and hence can say very little about what is to come. But to criticize the government amidst crisis after crisis would be unfair.

The government relies heavily on social science theories primarily economics which according to Naseem Taleb seems to diverge from theory to theory. He states that “during the cold war, the University of Chicago was promoting laissez-faire theories, while the University of Moscow taught the exact opposite—but their respective physics departments were in convergence, if not in total agreement”.

Should Imran Khan be praised for Antifragility?

This is the reason why Taleb puts social science theories as something super fragile for real world decisions and unusable for risk analyses. The very designation “theory” is even upsetting. In social science he argues these should be construct “chimeras” rather than theories. We will have to construct a methodology to deal with these defects. In essence the practical decisions and steps taken by PM Imran Khan make sense and should be dealt with in cooperation with the measures he has proposed so far. 

The antifragility test has also driven us to focus on what is important to human survival; first and foremost, food security followed by research and development in medicine, understanding of our responsiveness to natural disasters and hospital care, management of funds for delivering healthcare and our resilience as a nation.

There is, in the Black Swan zone, a limit to knowledge that can never be reached, no matter how sophisticated statistical and risk management science ever gets, and the COVID-19 crisis is a classic case in point. 

Taleb argues that the great medieval Arabic-language skeptic philosopher Algazel, aka Al-Ghazali, who tried to destroy the teleology of Averroes and his rationalism, came up with the famous metaphor of the pin—now falsely attributed to Adam Smith. The pin doesn’t have a single maker, but twenty-five persons involved; these are all collaborating in the absence of a central planner—a collaboration guided by an invisible hand. For not a single one knows how to produce it on his own.

In the eyes of Algazel, a skeptic fideist (i.e., a skeptic with religious faith), knowledge was not in the hands of humans, but in those of God, while Adam Smith calls it the law of the market and some modern theorist presents it as self-organization. If the reader wonders why fideism is epistemologically equivalent to pure skepticism about human knowledge and embracing the hidden logics of things, just replace God with nature, fate, the Invisible, Opaque, and Inaccessible, and you mostly get the same result.

Read More: Post-corona world and Pakistan

The logic of things stands outside of us (in the hands of God or natural or spontaneous forces); and given that nobody these days is in direct communication with God, there is little difference between God and opacity. Not a single individual has a clue about the general process, and that is central. So blaming the government will not in any case cause the negativity of the black swan to reverse but it may very well improve our ability to improve antifragility. 

Taleb argues that iatrogenics (harm done by the healer, as when the doctor’s interventions do more harm than good) and generalized iatrogenics by extension, (applies to the harmful side effects of actions by policy makers and activities of academics) cannot cause societies to improve. Instead he argues for a way to embrace antifragility and thrive in chaos…something Pakistan is not entirely alien to.

The author is an Assistant Professor at the Lahore School of Economics and Shell-Chevening-DFID-Noon Foundation Scholar to Judge Business School, to the University of Cambridge, UK with a Kate Bertram College Distinction. She can be contacted at mmcambridge@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.