Any factual / mathematical basis for Nassim Taleb's "intransigent minority" theory?

I recently read Nassim Taleb’s latest book Skin in the Game. In it, he puts forth the idea that a sufficiently motivated, intransigent minority can dictate majority preferences, simply by having a stake in the outcome and pushing for it with no or little real resistance on the majority side. As one example, the kosher-eating population is .3% of the total population, but almost all packaged drinks you can buy in the US are kosher.

You can read his summary of the idea in his own words starting at the “Criminals with Peanut Allergies” paragraph here.

I checked the book out from the library and have since returned it, so aren’t able to look up any citations he has around the idea in the appendix. I’ve also googled without much success - does anyone here know if he is basing this idea on any peer-reviewed studies or mathematical paradigms?

Or is it simply an observational hypothesis he’s constructed?

Kosher drinks strike me as a poor example. The kosher rules happen to have very little to say about soft drinks, so it’s really easy to make a soft drink kosher (probably raising the price by less than that 0.3%). On the other hand, it’s a lot more work to ensure that a hamburger is kosher, and unsurprisingly, very few hamburgers in the US are kosher (probably even less than 0.3%). Which is not to mention all of the various pork sandwiches which inherently cannot be kosher, and which yet are still sold.

I think we see examples of this all the time in our daily lives. In most cases we don’t recognize it. It would depend largely on how motivated the minority was and how apathetic the majority was it would vary so much from issue to issue that I think it would be impossible to apply a mathematical model to it.

Yeah, I read his summary. And I am not impressed.
It’s just plain common sense.
If you can make more profit by matching your product to the needs of 1% of your customers, and not affecting the other 99%, then, ummm… why not do it?
And I found his tone very disturbing. He uses language of conspiracy theorists and fear-mongering, warning us about minorities “imposing” their terrible demands on helpless bystanders, Muslims “forcing” everyone in England to eat Hallal, etc.

Slight hijack: I spent six months in Switzerland in 1967 and was astonished to see that packaged crackers and cookies were registered in the Penna dept of Agriculture. Having grown up in Philly and always seen that legend, I assumed that if I lived in NY, my crackers would be registered in the NY dept of Agriculture, but when I lived in NY, nope, still Penna. And IL and Switzerland. At that point I decided that the cost must be nominal and was required by PA, but nowhere else. This has since disappeared, but a very small tail was wagging a very large dog.

The point is that the costs imposed on the majority are small enough not to attract push back. No one cares that packaged drinks cost an extra 3 cents but banning pork would cause a massive backlash.

The paradigm explains so much of national politics such as farm subsidies, NPR, NEA, etc.

It is kind of the same idea as a tariff. The government can put a tariff on a specific type of item that benefits domestic production. Maybe it only benefits 3 factories in the Midwest somewhere, but the rest of the rest of the US must pay higher prices for that item.

The rest of the US is not going to write the President or congressman and complain about the small price bump that they experience. But it was worth a lot of money for those factory owners to push for that tariff with lawmakers.

If something benefits a small minority a lot, they will win over a large majority that is affected only a little.

Except that with kosher soft drinks, it might not make any difference at all to the cost for everyone else. If the Coca-Cola Company takes the minimal steps necessary for a kosher certification, and then doesn’t raise the price at all, they’ll still make more profit from the expansion into the Jewish market than it cost them to get the certification.

Agreed. He suggests that if Muslims are 4% of your population then the correct amount of halal Subway restaurants is 4%, and the correct amount of halal lamb imports is 4%. The market doesn’t work that way, it’s a balance of the cost to certify and the opportunity gained once you’re certified.

The cost to certify a major soft drink is negligible. The cost of going halal in a Subway is more significant. Below a certain threshold, going halal is not financially warranted, but once you hit that critical mass of customers, it can yield benefits.

I got this book from the library, and only got part way through before turning it back in, it really rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not even so much that he’s wrong, minority populations with specific restrictions will be catered to more than the majority population that has no restrictions, but it just seems to be suggesting that it’s wrong, somehow.

“no or little real resistance on the majority side”
Really if the majority doesn’t really care, what’s the problem? Choices get made by the people who care, and the rest don’t care. Shocking, that.

So I get that this is the same idea behind some tariffs and farm subsidies and other things we see in real life - but does anyone here know if this effect has been studied in a peer-reviewed way, or modeled in a widely accepted mathematical way?

For such a frequently-recurring concept, it seems to not be talked about in consistent terms in the literature, and I’m just trying to find what some of those terms might be.

For good or bad: Every US Law Named After A Victim And What It Does (Ranker)

Economists refer to to"the squeaky wheel" problem.

Say you have 100 people, and 11 of them passionately love/need/want something that the other 89 do not. But unless more than 11 of those 89 can get behind wanting the same thing, then the original 11 shift from being a small minority to the dominant group.

Slight tangent:

I am no expert on kosher certification … but I am struggling to come up with a non-contrived way your typical soft-drink operation would not put out a kosher product. So kosher certification would essentially just involve keeping up with (periodic?) inspections, correct? As opposed to any kind of real changes in production methods?

The Cecil formerly known as Perfect Master speaks

Soda contains a small amount of glycerin which can be derived from animal fats and those animals may not have been slaughtered in the kosher way. Kosher soda has to have glycerin derived from plants.

It would seem that the people who favor gun ownership fight against gun control a lot more fervently than people fight for it. Not that gun control opponents are that tiny a minority, probably like 35-45% but less than the percentages claimed in favor of gun control.

That only applied to crackers and cookies which happened to be sold in PA and which didn’t have different packages for PA, NY and CH. Nowadays the same cookies are still registered in PA but highly likely to use different packagings in at least the US and CH; depending on current campaigns they may even have different packagings for PA and NY.

That glycerin was one of the products a former client of mine made and got certified as both kosher and halal. In turn, their own customers used the religion-certified materials mainly for foreign and specialty markets: cookies or sodas in a Spanish supermarket would usually not have the certification stamps, but the same* products in a Moroccan supermarket, or in a Halal store in Spain, would have the stamp.

  • Where “same” means the same brand, although with different packaging. The ingredients may even be the same, but the stamp is only used in markets in which it’s perceived as an added value.

There is some basis to believe that Taleb is full of himself ever since effectively predicting the 2008 economic crisis in Black Swan, which came out in 2007. He now has the ability to say pretty much anything he wants and people will listen to him because he was right once in a big way. As much as I admired him after reading Fooled by Randomness and the previous mentioned book, he seems to just be a pompous ass these days and I wouldn’t bother to read anything he has published unless someone went out of their way to get the book for me without wasting any of my own time and energy.

He did? I don’t remember that.

ETA: Just Googled it to get more info.

Also, just want to add that Taleb was full of himself in the book The Black Swan, so whatever ego he had definitely preceded the economic crisis.