Nassim Nicholas Taleb criticized authorities' responses to the pandemic, encouraged people to adapt to business closures, and championed entrepreneurs in an interview during the BI Global Trends Festival on Monday.
Taleb is a former hedge-fund manager and the author of "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable." He is also the scientific advisor to Universa Investments, a "black swan" fund that posted a 4,144% return in the first quarter of this year.
Here are his eight best quotes from the interview, lightly edited for clarity:
1. "There are two kinds of people. People who when they hear that there's a problem, they go into their basement, start crying, have an emotional support group, do some praying, and wait for the government to save them. Others who take their fate in their own hands and try to say, 'Hey, life gave me a lemon, let me make lemonade out of it'" - on the best way to react to a crisis.
2. "There are ways you can be ahead. You just have to fight" - on the subject of adapting to the pandemic. Taleb gave the example of a gym owner pivoting to installing home gyms, and a waiter making more money as a delivery driver.
3. "Capitalism is a wonderful mechanism to convert individual human greed into collective virtue."
4. "Governments are good at doing things that look important but are not necessarily effective."
5. "We're spending $1 trillion on fighting illusory enemies with very complex nuclear stuff, but you can't do something as basic as test people when they want to board a plane" - criticizing the government response to the pandemic.
6. "I'm quite pessimistic in the days ahead" - on the likelihood of a spike in coronavirus infections as people spend more time indoors this winter, exacerbated by a lack of systematic testing.
7. "Millennials think that joining an NGO is a great way to save the world. I say no. Start a company, that's how you improve mankind. We did not pull 2 billion people out of poverty thanks to NGOs and bureaucrats, we pulled them out thanks to capitalism, by generating economic growth."
8. "A soldier can fail without any shame to the country. We should interpret the failure of entrepreneurs as something that is helping the planet" - on the need to encourage entrepreneurs and remove the stigma of failure.