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Skin in the game
A photo abstract of how I spend my Friday nights (after intense episodes of soccer): A red cup of (very cold) water, slices of Papa John’s Pizza, with, of course, a very deep book – in this case, Antifragile

How Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile stopped me from ‘reading’ books – Warren Buffet’s apt Lingo – Why the maid must eat (not taste) the King’s meal – You will see nothing, Nada!

I have being reading antifragile for a couple of weeks now, which has stalled me on page 100 on Matt Ridley’s science book: The Red Queen; and somewhere on page 80 something on Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.

Reading antifragile means not reading 3 or 5 books (a perfect illustration of via negativa which he also explored in his book), however, I have been intrigued by what I have learnt so far (including what I couldn’t even understand, where the real excitement should lie). I hope to devour more books on Logic, Stats and probability and pick it up again to re-read.

This is not meant to be a Book review, so I had rather jump into the pith of the blog – Skin in the game.

After an intense section of soccer goalkeeping, I decided to ‘spoil’ myself with a couple of slices of Papa John’s Pizza, and sank into Antifragile. This made up for a perfect pre-sleeping section yesterday night.

As Nassim took me on an intellectual drive, I came across the phrase ‘skin in the game’. I have heard of the phrase a couple of times, but I just didn’t know exactly what it means.

It turns out that skin in the game was actually one of the numerous felicitous words in Warren Buffet’s lingo and it refers “to a situation in which high-ranking insiders use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running”

These are other examples of Skin in the game I gleaned off Taleb’s Antifragile which will most probably strike you (like I was stroke):

“Hammurabi’s code—now about 3,800 years old—identifies the need to reestablish a symmetry of fragility, spelled out as follows:

“If a builder builds a house and the house collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house—the builder shall be put to death. If it causes the death of the son of the owner of the house, a son of that builder shall be put to death. If it causes the death of a slave of the owner of the house—he shall give to the owner of the house a slave of equal value.”

people voting for war need to have at least one descendant (child or grandchild) exposed to combat. For the Romans, engineers needed to spend some time under the bridge they built—something that should be required of financial engineers today. The English went further and had the families of the engineers spend time with them under the bridge after it was built.”

I could remember watching a couple of movies reflecting ancient Africans traditions while growing up, with a very recurrent scene: A maid will always taste the king’s meal before the king eats it, so the maid will, at least have some skin in the game.

I think this is a largely ineffective tactic, especially when you think about dose dependency of the possible toxin in the food.

I propose the maid should eat an immaculate replica of the king’s meal. (That should be effective enough provided our maid is not some sort of a suicide bomber). And a maid with fat cheeks should not be a ‘too-big-a-price’ to pay for the King’s health.

With all these illustrations, a formalized definition of skin in the game becomes completely superfluous so I wouldn’t even try to formulate one.

As I write this now, I can see my glycobiology Journal Club’s “Fucosylation and Protein glycosylation create functional receptors for cholera toxin” presentation paper, for next week, staring at me (viciously).

So I thought, when leaders calls for war and sit in an office (most likely with air-conditioner) without any skin in the game of course; or politicians politicking (again, without an iota skin in the game).

It’s just like me reading my glycobiology paper for another person (say, an imaginary carbon copy) to present. In that case I might end up reading Antifragile, The Red Queen, and Meditations, all weekend with a very strong dose of soccer in between.

To wrap this up (so I can get back to my glyco-paper). A very quick litmus test that can be used to understand progress of any entity is to ferret for ‘skin in the game’ amongst it’s drivers.

The less skin in the game, the more skewed the asymmetry, and of course the less the effectiveness (justice, fairness, honesty, rectitude) you will see in that system.

This explains the difference between the so called developed, semi-developed (or whatever it’s being called) and alas, the under-developed countries. In the latter, try looking for the ‘skin in the game’ amongst their leaders, and you will see nothing – Nada!

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