Global Risk and Anticipating Black Swan Events

Nov 16, 2017 | 22:57 GMT

Can you predict transformative world events? In this episode of the podcast we explore the past, present and future of black swan events and how geopolitically engaged individuals, investors or organizations can anticipate, or at least mitigate their exposure to, the next major geopolitical inflection point.

We’ll discuss how historians and forecasters view the making of a black swan differently with Stratfor Worldview contributor Ian Morris. Then in part two, we’re joined by Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins to learn how billionaire investors mitigate against these international risks.

Related Reading

The Making of a Black Swan by Ian Morris

How Billionaire Investors Hedge Against Geopolitical Black Swans by Visual Capitalist

Stratfor's Decade Forecast: 2015-2025

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Faisel Pervaiz [00:00:00] Hello, I'm Faisel Pervaiz, a South Asia analyst at Stratfor, and this podcast is brought to you by Stratfor Worldview, the world's leading geopolitical intelligence platform. Individual, team, and enterprise memberships are available at worldview.stratfor.com/subscribe.

Ian Morris [00:00:30] We sometimes get a little bit too hung up on the black swan idea, and thinking that the individual actions can send the events off in a course we couldn't possibly predict. I just don't think that's normally the case.

Ben Sheen [00:00:49] Welcome to the Stratfor Podcast, focused on geopolitics and world affairs from stratfor.com. I'm your host, Ben Sheen. In this episode of the podcast, we discuss black swan events, what's really predictable when it comes to transformative world events, and how geopolitically-engaged individuals or organizations can mitigate exposure, or even anticipate the next black swan event to come. In part one of the podcast, we're joined by Stratfor Worldview contributor, Ian Morris, to explore the nature of black swan events, from both a historical, and a forward-looking perspective. Then in part two, we speak with Jeff Desjardins of Visual Capitalist, to discuss how billionaire investors today limit their risk, or even profit from these kinds of global inflection points. Thanks for joining us. Joining me today to talk about black swan events are Stratfor managing editor Sophie Steiner, and Dr. Ian Morris, historian, archeologist, bestselling author, and a Willard Professor of Classics at Stanford University. Sophie, Ian, thank you for joining me today.

Sophie Steiner [00:01:54] Happy to be here.

Ian Morris [00:01:55] Yeah, thank you for having us on.

Ben Sheen [00:01:56] Brilliant. Ian, you recently wrote a column on the making of a black swan, which we put on Stratfor Worldview November 1st. It's a really interesting subject, and it's something I'd like to delve into in a little bit more detail, but first off, I think a question we need to ask is, what do we mean when we talk about a black swan?

Ian Morris [00:02:12] Well, people usually use it just to mean something completely unexpected, that you couldn't possibly predict, so like the occurrence of a black swan, it does happen, but it's so rare, that in everyday life, you just kind of discount it, and then one shows up, and when people in forecasting use it, they mean an event that's really unusual, but which then has enormous consequences.

Sophie Steiner [00:02:38] So Ian, can you tell us what inspired you to write about black swans now?

Ian Morris [00:02:43] Well, yes, it was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his famous protests against the Catholic Church onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, in Germany, where he lived. And this is one of the great events that historians like to talk about, as a moment when just everything changed. And they'll often present it as a moment that, really, nobody could've foreseen this coming. Again, just like a black swan, came completely out of the blue, but then afterwards, nothing is ever the same again.

Ben Sheen [00:03:14] And it's always curious, because as strategic forecasters, we like to feel where the events are inherently, we can see them coming, but these sort of disruptive events are an outlier, they're not always easy to predict. However, that might not necessarily be the case, right?

Ian Morris [00:03:28] Well, yes, when I started thinking about what Luther did, on the face of it, it seems exactly like what you're describing, an event that pops up out of nowhere, that no forecaster could possibly have foreseen, and that just made all of the forecasts and predictions completely redundant. And great events were going on in Europe at the time, it was beginning to look like the whole of Western Europe might be united under a single empire, the Habsburg Empire, and then what Luther did, it set off a series of conflicts that were unpredicted by people, and that really made that much less likely to happen. So on the face of it, it seems like this classic black swan event. But then, the more I started thinking about it, the more I realized, well, you know, a lot of this stuff was sort of predictable, not predictable in the sense, let's say, in September of 1517 you could've said some guy like Luther is going to come along, and everything will change, but in the sense that, all of the preconditions were there, and I think any forecaster worth his or her salt in 1517, should've been able to say, you know, something like Luther's protest, and the Protestant movement that comes out of it, this is one of the things we should have on our radar, we should have some contingency plans in place for this.

Ben Sheen [00:04:43] So potentially, if it hadn't been Martin Luther who had made this one bold, significant move, it could've very easily been somebody else, and the condition's really set for this whole thing to ignite.

Ian Morris [00:04:52] Yeah, I think there's two ways to look at it. One is always to say, well, if not Luther, then, as you say, maybe somebody else, and Friedrich Engels back in the 19th century, he very famously suggested, "All the great men of history are just representatives of deeper trends." He said if Napoleon hadn't been born, well, history required a Napoleon, so one would've happened anyway. And I think that's maybe going a little bit far, but I think in the early 16th century, there's been a series of protests against the church over the previous few generations, so it's really plausible to think a guy like Luther is going to pop up. And the other thing, the other way to think about this is to say, well, okay, what if Luther, or somebody very similar to him, had not popped up? What would've happened then? And I think in this case, a lot of the trends that were unfolding, are ones that Luther kind of slots into these deeper underlying processes, and a lot of what we think of as the consequences of Protestantism, are really just the playing out of these processes, and even if Luther had never existed, it wouldn't have ended up the same way that they did in reality, but things would've ended up in Europe in a rather similar place.

Sophie Steiner [00:06:03] So Ian, you mention in your piece that there's a bit of a different way that historians look at black swan events versus forecasters, can you talk a little bit more about that?

Ian Morris [00:06:13] Yeah, I think so, I think forecasters, of course, you're in the business of looking at recent history, and saying, "What are the trends that are unfolding, and where are they likely to take us?" And then you might also ask, "Is there anything built into these trends which might derail the trend?" as the feedback process is building up, it might push things in a very different direction from where they're going. And so the emphasis is always on finding the longer term processes unfolding, and where they're likely to take us. And for historians, of course, it's a very different game. You're looking at stuff that is already settled and been done, and the nature of the evidence that you've got tends to emphasize the individuals and their motivations, and the decisions that specific people make. So I think historians tend to be drawn toward the idea of black swan-type events. Some of my colleagues at Stanford taught a course a few years ago called 10 Days that Shook the World, where they took 10 different episodes in history where something happened each time, and you could plausibly claim the world is changed by this set of events. And for historians, that's a very attractive way to look at the past, and of course, for forecasters, the more that the historical way of thinking about it is correct, the more difficult it becomes to predict anything, and work out where the trends are taking us.

Ben Sheen [00:07:34] And it's curious when you take a more global view as well, because clearly, the Luther example is focused predominantly in Europe, but in your piece, you bring out examples from elsewhere, specifically China and the Middle East, where these sort of events do come about.

Ian Morris [00:07:46] Yeah, that is one of the interesting things that I think doesn't get emphasized enough. That, in the early 16th century, this is a time when the world is really beginning to be pulled together more tightly than ever before, in some fairly dramatic way. Columbus has discovered the Americas, just, what, 25 years before Luther, and voyages to India are beginning, China is going to be connected to Europe fairly soon, so the interlinkages are growing, the world is becoming a bigger place for everybody, and some rather similar social, economic, political processes are going on all across Eurasia at this point, and you do get guys, certainly not identical to Luther, but with some rather similar ideas to Luther's popping up in China, India, the Middle East, and particularly, one of the big things with Luther is this idea that you don't need a great hierarchy of priests and kings and everybody else telling you what to think about the meaning of the world, and what God wants. You can get this as an individual Christian by confronting the scriptures, and you have this personal relationship with God. God will speak to you directly. And this, of course, doesn't really have any direct parallels in Islam, or in Confucianism, but all the same, something slightly similar is going on in both China and India. In China, there's a guy named Wang Yangming, who convinces himself that you don't need to spend 30 years studying with Confucian scholars in order to understand the meaning of the world, you can work this out for yourself.

Ian Morris [00:09:19] And in the Middle East, this is the period right during Luther's lifetime, in 1501, the Shah of Persia announces he is a Shiite Muslim, and the split between Shia and Sunni goes back all the way to the seventh century, but most of the time, it hasn't been all that important, it only really takes off in the 16th century, because then the Persian king decides to embrace Shiite Islam, and a series of wars breaks out with the Sunni Ottoman Turks, that is in a lot of ways, it's not that different to the Catholic-Protestant wars that started going on in Europe as well. So then you scan multitudes of forces producing vaguely similar sort of outcomes all the way from the Mediterranean to China.

Ben Sheen [00:09:59] And these are obviously massive parallels to track historically, but also things that continue to resonate to this very day.

Sophie Steiner [00:10:06] Ian, what can we learn from this, in trying to look at what's going to happen in the years to come? Is it just, hindsight is 20/20, and we can only really know about these things after they happen, or what kind of lessons can we apply to forward-thinking?

Ian Morris [00:10:21] Yeah, I think the lessons that we learn from somebody like Luther are, for forecasting at least, are pretty simple ones. I think the more abstract the questions you're asking, the easier it is to use the recent past to identify trends and see where they're going, and the more you burrow down into the details, the more individual decisions start to matter, and the more genuine black swans start to happen. So, and I say it'd be something like the Arab Spring, I think is a really good example of this, nobody could possibly have predicted that the actions of one really angry fruit vendor in Tunisia were going to set off this chain of revolutions and civil wars all across the Muslim world. Nobody could possibly have predicted that. But on the other hand, the possibility that the mounting anger against the secular Arab dictators was going to spill over, and was going to lead to violent uprisings, and some Muslims were going to be trying to modernize their countries, and become more like Europe and North America, compared to the big, more conservative Islamist backlash, all of these things are entirely predictable, and I think if in 2010, somebody had said, "Well, within the next five years, there's a pretty good chance we're going to see upheavals all over the Islamic world, and we're going to see civil wars in some countries." I think lots of people would've said, "Yeah, that makes a great deal of sense." But if you try to predict the specific course of events, I think it's pretty much impossible you could've got that right.

Ian Morris [00:11:52] So I think that that is sort of the big lesson of this, and maybe, we sometimes get a little bit too hung up on the black swan idea, thinking that the individual actions can send events off in a course we couldn't possibly predict, I just don't think that's normally the case.

Ben Sheen [00:12:08] And I think, certainly, this is something that we, I wouldn't say struggle with every day, but it's something we're very cognizant of, with the sort of work we do at Stratfor, we have a lot of very, very well-schooled analysts who are students of international affairs, who have a vast depth and breadth of knowledge, both about their specific areas of responsibility, but also through history, and certainly, one of the things that we do that feeds our model is we track lots of information, we call 'em data points, all these little nuggets of information that are happening around the world, and oftentimes in isolation, they seem kind of meaningless, but when you start to connect the dots, you really see a picture form, and I think one of the things that we do to try an add value, is when something happens, we very quickly put it in context, and we see whether it is important or not, in sense of the bigger picture. And certainly, part of our methodology is trying to work out, it's separating the signal from the noise, what are the things that actually matter, and as you said, it might be something sort of tiny and inconsequential that has this huge ripple effect throughout history. So that's the really curious thing from our perspective, and I think something that you always manage to bring out in your columns is this sort of long-term perspective on history, and then how it informs our present, and then the future, which is incredibly valuable from a forecasting perspective.

Ian Morris [00:13:16] Well, thank you, yeah, I think this is one of the, I should say, one of the big challenges, is putting the events into context, and in some ways, a guy like Martin Luther 500 years ago, he does look as if he is conceived to doubt the very possibility of using trends from history to see where things might be going. But I think, in a way, what he's really showing is that only somebody who has the kind of approach Stratfor takes, so looking at what the trends have been in recent times, only somebody who has that sort of perspective, is going to be able to make sense of what he's doing.

Ben Sheen [00:13:51] Very much so, and Ian, while I've got you here, I'd also like to ask, you sit on our board of contributors, a team of world-class academics and global thinkers that contribute to how we consider the world. In what ways do you think yourself and your colleagues really contribute to the forecasting debate, and trying to bring different perspectives into what we do with strategic forecasting?

Ian Morris [00:14:14] Yeah, that's a good question. I'd like to think that what a professional historian can do is remind people that using the past to forecast where things might be going, it's a little bit more complicated than people sometimes realize. There's this tendency to say, well, what we should do is look to the past, and find similar episodes that have happened before, where some of the same factors seem to be playing out, and then we can use those to tell us what to do. And so, I feel in forecasting, there's a school of people who seem locked forever in 1938, and everything that ever happens, this is new and it's being played out again. Every foreign leader is Hitler again, our own leaders are always Neville Chamberlain, everything is 1938. And then there's another school of thought that says, everything is 1968, and whatever is happening, it's a rerun of the My Lai Massacre, and the United States is about to do something terrible and wicked, and the most important thing here is not to do these terrible and wicked things. And these are very simplistic ways to look at how we can use the past to inform our present judgment. And my sense of it is that what we should be looking for when we study the past for forecasting terms, what we should be looking for is a combination of both what makes contemporary events similar to things that happened before, and what makes them different. 'Cause usually, there's at least as many differences as similarities, and if we can say, well, in 1938, the similarities led to a certain kind of outcome,

Ian Morris [00:15:53] well, how much of the differences now are going to change that outcome? And we should maybe be looking to the past not so much for answers to our problems, as to define better what the question is, and what the possible lines of development are, rather than looking for a single answer.

Sophie Steiner [00:16:09] Ian, I think you brought up a good point too, in the sense that, it's very easy for people to get stuck in what they know, in the mindset that they're familiar with, but what makes geopolitics so interesting, and what makes forecasting so difficult is it's a mix of history, politics, economics, culture, military knowledge, it takes all of these different subjects, and combines them into a single comprehensive look at the world, and I think that's where contributors really come into play very well for our readership, is they provide these different viewpoints that can give a well-rounded look at different events, and different things that are happening, in different parts of the world, and they may not always match with Stratfor, sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't, but I think it's important to always have that broad array of opinions, so you can really get a look at how people from different backgrounds are viewing the same events.

Ben Sheen [00:17:09] Well, Ian, Sophie, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today, I've certainly learned an incredible amount, and I definitely encourage everyone to go and read your column, The Making of a Black Swan, published November the 1st on Stratfor Worldview. Ian, Sophie, thanks so much for joining me.

Ian Morris [00:17:23] My pleasure.

Sophie Steiner [00:17:24] Thank you for having us.

Ben Sheen [00:17:25] And that was managing editor Sophie Steiner and Dr. Ian Morris, the Willard Professor of Classics at Stanford University. We'll get to the second part of today's conversation about black swan events with Visual Capitalist, Jeff Desjardins, in just a moment. But first, we want to take a moment and respond to one of our listener questions. In episode 43, we explored Blockchain, Bitcoin, and digital ledger technology. Doug raised a question about the idea of new bitcoins. While we noted that a maximum number of bitcoins that can ever be created is written into its very code, it's worth noting that we have yet to reach that point. And to learn more about where new bitcoins come from, we went back to Stratfor senior science and technology analyst, Rebecca Keller.

Rebecca Keller [00:18:12] It's part of the design of the algorithm that runs Bitcoin, that there would be a set endpoint, and what that does, conceptually, is it makes Bitcoin more like gold, than it is like a traditional currency. So that's where the term mining comes in, it's a nice play on words there. The mining process is the verification process, so computers solve these equations, these computing problems, in order to create more bitcoins, that verifies the new bitcoin, and that's called mining, so instead of going into a mine and getting gold out of rock, you now solve a computer problem. Also, built into the algorithm is a stopping point. Just like gold, there's a limited amount of that resource in the world, there's also a limited amount of bitcoins. Now, that upper limit is somewhat theoretical, but it's thought to be about 21 million coins. So there's an endpoint. Now, that endpoint is likely a century or more away, but what it does, again, and that's the conceptual point that I want to emphasize, is that in the creation of Bitcoin, it's set up to be more like gold, a solid thing, versus a currency that can be reprinted and reprinted and reprinted, where inflation comes into play in that sense. So that's really what mining, and what the creating of bitcoins is, and why there's a limit, it was part of the invention process of Bitcoin.

Ben Sheen [00:19:43] Thanks again to Stratfor's Rebecca Keller and Doug for writing in with this question. If you'd like to read more of our analysis on this topic, or catch one of our recent contributor articles about black swan events, you can find all of those on Stratfor Worldview. If you're not already a Worldview member, you can learn more about individual, team, and enterprise access at worldview.stratfor.com/subscribe. Now, to the second part of our podcast on black swan events, with visual capitalist Jeff Desjardins. And here with me now is Jeff Desjardins, founder and editor of Visual Capitalist, a website we're big fans of here at Stratfor, that creates and curates visual content on investing in business, thanks for joining me today, Jeff.

Jeff Desjardins [00:20:31] Thanks for having me.

Ben Sheen [00:20:32] So we talked a little bit with Dr. Ian Morris about the nature of black swan events, and how they appear through history, and they do tend to put forecasters into a bit of a tailspin. From your perspective, looking at investors and markets in general, what's your take on the risk that comes from black swan events?

Jeff Desjardins [00:20:50] Well, the challenge for investors, and especially the people that are sort of at the top of the food chain that have enormous amounts of wealth and net worth, is that it's really hard to quantify the amount of risk that black swan has, just by nature of what it is. Basically, any time that investors are looking at the world, they're able to quantify risks for everything that's sort of a known unknown, and a black swan is a unknown unknown, and therefore, it makes it really hard to figure out what kind of impact that could have on your portfolio, and on your wealth.

Ben Sheen [00:21:26] Very much so, and certainly, one of the things we pride ourselves on at Stratfor is our ability to really apply the geopolitical model, looking at history, looking at politics, looking at geography, and trying to see how things will evolve in the future based upon facts and rationality in our method. But certainly, when it comes to the world of investing, there is an inherent amount of risk, but also, you cannot predict with any degree of uncertainty, events in the future. And there's a piece that you did recently, which we re-featured on Worldview, about how billionaire investors hedge against geopolitical black swans. Can you talk us through a little bit about some of the ways in which investors mitigate against these uncertain events?

Jeff Desjardins [00:22:05] I guess the biggest thing to keep in mind is that, the people that we're talking about here, billionaires and wealthy investors, their main concern, a lot of the time, at least from some of the ones that I've met, are things like, "How do I ensure that my wealth stays intact over time? How do I make sure that some sort of big, unanticipated event doesn't wipe out everything that I have, that I spent so much time building?" That kind of thing, and that really helps you get a perspective on what some of these people are thinking, so when you hear about people like Ray Dalio holding on to gold for a portion of his portfolio, that's what he's thinking. He's thinking that, if things go badly somehow, I have this insurance measure that's going to help protect my portfolio against anything that can happen. And then when you're looking at someone like Warren Buffet, he has a very different perspective, which is that he's made his career going in when there's figurative blood on the streets, and he'll go in and buy cheap assets after such an event happens, and then ride that to building his net worth, and so he is looking at it a little bit differently, in this case, he is looking at it as, "I'm going to stockpile cash, so that when such an event happens, I can go in, and take advantage of it."

Ben Sheen [00:23:25] So it sounds like there's at least two camps here, so you have the protectionist people who would basically try and shore themselves up against these eventualities, but also the opportunists, who are going to look to try and capitalize on these geopolitical events that will destabilize the global system, in some way, shape, or form.

Jeff Desjardins [00:23:41] Yeah, absolutely, there's a variety of approaches, I guess what's interesting is sort of the mindset these people have when they're approaching these events. Someone like Dalio, or maybe David Einhorn is another good example, they're just trying to make sure that at the end of the day, because they don't know what is happening, in such a case of an event, they want to make sure that at the end of the day, that they have enough wealth left over to maintain their position on top of the food chain. Someone like Warren Buffet is a little bit more practical in how he approaches these things. He's always built wealth the same way, since he was a kid, basically, and he adopted the value investing approach when he was going to school at Columbia, and ever since that time, he's always done the same thing over and over, and it's always worked for him, and so he just keeps on with the same approach, which is, as you mention, taking advantage of situations where stocks are very undervalued, for example, coming in and scooping those up, and then being careful when valuations are a lot higher, where there could be some sort of a recession, or fall in prices, systemically, and he protects himself by having cash at that point.

Ben Sheen [00:24:53] And it's interesting to see how these approaches will play out, because clearly the world isn't static, things are constantly in flux, and there is a temptation that, when things are stable for a period of years, it almost can lull you into a false sense of security, and certainly, one of our core assumptions is that we are approaching an inflection point, that there are changes coming to the global system which are going to be profound, and certainly, the effects of that are going to be widespread. To what extent to you think people are preparing their positions to cope with these sort of unexpected events?

Jeff Desjardins [00:25:23] Certainly a good question, I think it depends on the person. I mean, probably the most interesting thing to look at, when you're thinking about an inflection point coming at some point here, is that market indices keep on hitting new highs, on a daily basis, basically. So in that sense, there is still a lot of, I guess excitement for the market, and so, because it keeps going up, it's clear that people aren't all hedging, they must be buying, but it's more the fact that we are trying to cover in our piece is that, the billionaire people that we are talking about here, these guys are typically considered the smart money, they typically are ahead of the game, and they are the ones that are starting to think, "Well, you know, there's some questions here, as to whether this is going to be sustainable or not, and I'm going to protect myself regardless of what other people are doing, and I'm going to start making moves in ways that make sense for me." In the case that if something does happen, and hitting new highs with the stock market isn't always possible.

Ben Sheen [00:26:25] And clearly, these people are key influencers, because they've made vast amounts of money, and have been in the game for a long time, so when they make certain decisions, people tend to sit up and listen. But let's look at some of the factors that are influencing them and their decision-making. And certainly, a common word we keep hearing is uncertainty. And there's a number of factors for that, and I think a good little microcosm we can look at, specifically now, is Trump's tour to the Asia Pacific region, because that touches on a number of intersecting factors. The change, perhaps, in the US balance of power, but also, within that, the Asia Pacific region, you have major economies, and a changing dynamic there, so how do you think, looking at that example in the Asia Pacific, how is that affecting the way that people are thinking about the future?

Jeff Desjardins [00:27:07] Well, I think people are still watching him really closely, North Korea's out that way, so there's a lot of discussion about that, and how they're looking at containing anything that happens there that might be considered rogue. And so in that sense, these are themes that have been popping up for the last year, and you're right, this is the perfect sort of limelight for those to appear.

Ben Sheen [00:27:29] So oftentimes, we look at singular destabilizing events in the global system that can have a disproportionate impact, but at the moment, we have a number of events that are potentially destabilizing from the Brexit and how that's going to affect Europe and the Eurozone, from the ongoing North Korea nuclearization issue, to some of the issues in the Middle East. And these are geopolitical events that tend to have an impact, but what is the impact on the markets themselves, and how does this spill over?

Jeff Desjardins [00:27:55] Right, over time, we've seen that these events, because they're really hard to predict as well, they have a mixed track record in terms of the amount of selloff that it can incur in the market, so sometimes things happen, and you think it would be a big deal, it ends up being a relatively small deal, a good example of that is the actual Brexit vote in June 2016. From our data here, we see that there was a selloff of about 5.6% on US markets at least, but that basically recovered in a week or two, and it was back up to regular levels. So even though that was an event that could've been a trigger, and it certainly could have crept into other areas, sometimes a selloff will increase thoughts about other things, or it'll somehow translate into other selloffs, but in this case, it didn't. But if you go back in history, there's all kinds of events that do have much longer selloffs, percentage-wise, and in terms of days. When you look at something like the 9/11 attacks, were a 11.6% drop in markets. If you go back to some of the events in World War II, certainly, all of them are double-digit selloffs, so when Germany annexed Czechoslovakia, when Germany attacks France, all of these were 20% or bigger selloffs, and the market wouldn't recover for hundreds of days, obviously, because it went into World War II. So these selloffs, it really depends on what the market is thinking at the time of the event, and what else is affected. Does a selloff translate into other selloffs? Basically, does it have an exponential effect?

Ben Sheen [00:29:40] And do you think that the reduction we're seeing is, do you think it's that events simply have less impact, or are of a less serious nature, or do you think the markets are simply becoming more resilient?

Jeff Desjardins [00:29:49] There's a couple of school of thoughts on this, the one that I subscribe to generally is that, they are more resilient to a point, but what happens at the end is that you have all of this systemic risk that's built up in a bunch of different areas, everything from interest rates to quantitative easing, that the central banks have been doing, and all of these types of factors, and it really sets up a fragile potential system that when is pushed to the brink, that's when I worry, but it does seem that in the short term, that a lot of these events do get shrugged off, so yeah, my concern is, when we do have something that's big or that has some contagion into other areas, areas like debt, that have been building up globally, what will the impact be then?

Ben Sheen [00:30:41] And I think certainly this is one of the lessons we can take away from history, when considering black swan events, is that, it's one thing to say, que sera, sera, if it happens, it happens, but actually, what I take on things is, by looking back through history, and accepting that black swans are generally made, not born, and the conditions have to be right to spawn them, if you understand long-term patterns, and you understand history, you can oftentimes see these critical events coming ahead of time, and certainly, that is of benefit to anyone who has the management position.

Jeff Desjardins [00:31:09] Yeah, and one interesting anecdote, which comes from Nassim Taleb's black swan theory, he gives three criteria for black swan, and one of them is that the event is a surprise, but only to the observer. And so, as an example, he says that a black swan may be a surprise to a turkey, I think in the example he says that the turkey has seen increased odds of living a long time, because every day, he's alive longer, and that kind of thing, and then all of a sudden, one day, it's Thanksgiving, and therefore, it's a black swan to him that he is no longer alive, but to the butcher, he knew all along, right? Because he saw it coming, and so it depends on whether you're an observer, or whether you're abreast of what is going on in the world, that will see how a black swan will play out.

Ben Sheen [00:32:00] Well, I certainly know which side of the chopping block I would prefer to be on. Jeff, thank you so much for talking about this with me today, and I would definitely encourage everybody to look either on Stratfor Worldview or on Visual Capitalist for the kind of infographics that Jeff and his team make, they really explain complexity in an incredibly engaging and visually appealing way, so please definitely check that out. Jeff, thank you so much.

Jeff Desjardins [00:32:23] Thanks so much, Ben.

Ben Sheen [00:32:37] That's it for this episode of the Stratfor Podcast. If you'd like to read more about black swan events, we'll include links to Ian Morris's recent Worldview contribution, and Visual Capitalist's incredible infographic in the show notes. You can also see what Stratfor's geopolitical analysts are forecasting, for both near and long-term global trends on our forecast page. If you're not already a Stratfor Worldview member, be sure to visit us at worldview.stratfor.com/subscribe, to get access to all of our forecasts and more than two decades of strategic insights into the underlying drivers behind world affairs. Worldview members can also continue this conversation in our members-only forum. That's where you can engage directly with other readers, as well as Stratfor analysts, editors, and contributors. If you have a question, or an idea for a future episode of the podcast, email us at podcast@stratfor.com, or give us a call on 1-512-744-4300, extension 3917 to leave a message, we'd love to hear from you. And if you have a moment, also consider leaving us a review on iTunes, or wherever you subscribe. Thanks again for joining us, and for more geopolitical intelligence, analysis and forecasting that bring global events into valuable perspective, follow us on Twitter at @stratfor.

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