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TheDrawbridge | Be a gentleman on the treadmill

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the author of The Black Swan, an extended edition of which is published in May by Penguin.


Be a gentleman on the treadmill

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Does having a job make you a phony? Well, it most always does, in various degrees, so let’s take these three rules for now. Primo: never trust a man who earns a salary (or, more specifically, has a dependent source of income) – unless he is on minimum wage. People in bondage would do absolutely anything to “feed a family”. Secondo: people who earn their living lying down (or standing up) are several times more trustworthy than those who do so sitting down. But don’t just jump to all the wrong professions – I do most of my reading and some of my writing lying supine. Terzo: don’t be fooled by money. These are just numbers. Being self-owned is a state of mind.

Some bank tellers are closer to self-ownership, given that they can easily switch to another job paying just minimum wage, while the chairman of the very same bank is, typically, a pure slave. The employees at the bottom cannot be easily forced to commit acts of desperation, or, say, fit their beliefs to accord with an action they have taken because they have to do so within their profession, rather than act according to preset beliefs. Such self-spinning justificatory strategy is commonly known as cognitive dissonance, as the person finds justification to resolve the mismatch between the initial set of mind and his subsequent actions. A banker, for example, can take crazy (but of course legal) actions loading the world with risk just to get a bonus, then subsequently find the justification that he is helping spur economic activity and that he is indispensable to society. Or people can indulge buying lottery tickets and claim – and believe – that they are doing it “for their children”.

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