The Long Peace

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

During the so-called Great Moderation, markets moved toward fewer but deeper departures from the mean, Nassim Nicholas Taleb says.

Great Moderation

Now, to Taleb’s horror, Steven Pinker sees an analogous Long Peace:

The fact that nuclear bombs explode less often that regular shells does not make them safer.

Pinker conflates nonscalable Mediocristan (death from encounters with simple weapons) with scalable Extremistan (death from heavy shells and nuclear weapons). The two have markedly distinct statistical properties. Yet he uses statistics of one to make inferences about the other. And the book does not realize the core difference between scalable/nonscalable (although he tried to define powerlaws). He claims that crime has dropped, which does not mean anything concerning casualties from violent conflict.

Another way to see the conflation, Pinker works with a times series process without dealing with the notion of temporal homogeneity. Ancestral man had no nuclear weapons, so it is downright foolish to assume the statistics of conflicts in the 14th century can apply to the 21st. A mean person with a stick is categorically different from a mean person with a nuclear weapon, so the emphasis should be on the weapon and not exclusively on the psychological makup of the person.

Had a book proclaiming The Long Peace been published in 1913 it would carry similar arguments to those in Pinker’s book.

Leave a Reply