Ramaphosa’s skin in the game a boon for train commuters

I’ve just opened Nassim Taleb’s latest book, Skin in the Game, a gift from a good friend who knows me well. Taleb, a Lebanese American whom I was privileged to first meet a dozen years back, is one of the great thinkers of our age. His masterful Fooled By Randomness is still my first book recommended to fellow knowledge seekers.

Although I’ve only devoured a few chapters of the new book, it’s theme is already apparent: only when human beings are directly and physically exposed, do we really take notice. For Taleb, the most despised of our species are “interventionistas” – those worthies whose change-invoking interventions, effected from remote air conditioned comfort, are taken without them carrying any personal risk to consequences.

A reminder of the power of having “skin in the game” came over the weekend in an email from the presidency telling us Cyril Ramaphosa will visit the SA’s Passenger Rail Agency (PRASA) on Tuesday. This visit, the note added, is the result of recent train trip where Ramaphosa had “personal experience of commuter frustration and technical problems.” Ramaphosa’s vote-catching train journey between two Pretoria stations, planned for 45 minutes, stretched to three hours because of a train breakdown.

Getting Number One directly exposed to the kind of everyday ordeal his constituents face – especially with a critical election looming – provides Taleb’s required skin in the game. With the personal consequences provided by a looming election, the episode is ensuring Ramaphosa focuses on the impact of corruption and incompetent management of state infrastructure, an area where PRASA is in a league of its own. Hopefully such attention continues long after May 8.

You can tune into the ZACP Capitalist Party of South Africa’s Facebook page today at 12:30pm SA time and watch me grill ZACP chair Kanthan Pillay.


From Biznews community member Anton Alberts

Thank you for discussing the work of the great thinker Nassim Taleb.

However, I would argue that Ramaphosa would have real skin in the game if he actually stands to lose something on a personal level. Currently he is protected as he will still be number one on the ANC’s list even if he does not solve the rail commuter issue and the ANC fares worst in the election – though he is exposed within his party. The best way to expose one to skin in the game is if they stand to lose personally and not via an institution. Therefore, I would wager that a system that decreases or increases income for elected officials from the governing party based on their successes or failures in government will be true skin in the game. You have to feel it personally and not via an agent-institution that protects you.

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