Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Nassim Taleb: Stay Out of Finance!

Nassim Taleb, New York University professor and author of 'The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.'
Jonathan Fickles | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As it turns out, Nassim Taleb thinks it’s a bad idea to be an investment professional.

In a short new paper published on his website, the author of "The Black Swan" argues that, in the future, new entrants into finance simply won’t be able to out-compete existing investment managers who—mostly due to luck—have accumulated records of market-beating performance and vast sums of capital.

The world he describes is very familiar to any one who has been following the financial scene. Successful hedge fund managers like John Paulson are described as market geniuses and gurus.

Despite vast amounts of evidence that these genius returns are in a large part the product of luck rather than skill, investor cash flows toward these folks. Coupled with the outsized earnings, they become multi-billion behemoths. (Related: Whale Watch: What Big Funds Are Buying—And Selling)

Taleb describes these oversized, super-financiers as a “spurious tail,” which he defines as “persons who rise to the top for no reasons other than mere luck, with subsequent rationalizations, analyses, explanations and attributions.” (More: Wall Street Whale Watching: 13F Filings Flood Street)

What is happening recently, Taleb says, is that the power and influence of the spurious tail is becoming so large that there is no real chance for up-and-comers to win in the future.

A young financier starting today, “no matter his skill level, and ability to predict prices, will be outcompeted by the spurious tail."

Stay out of finance, he writes. Instead, the young and talented should pursue work in fields “less commoditized” and with less direct competition.

by senior editor John Carney

Follow John on Twitter. (Market and financial news, adventures in New York City, plus whatever is on his mind.) You can email him at

Questions? Comments? Tips? Email us ator send a text message to: 917-740-8477.

Call us at 201-735-4638.