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The Anti-Fragility of Health

If health is defined merely as the absence of disease, there would be no compelling reason for people to invest in it. Unlike health care, health itself is the actively produced capacity to undergo stress and react positively to it.

NEW YORK – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, perhaps best known as the author of The Black Swan, has written a wonderful new book called Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. According to Taleb, things that are anti-fragile – mostly living things – not only resist being broken; they actually grow stronger under stress. When coddled too much, they grow weaker. Evolution is an anti-fragile process.

In the broader physical world, occasional minor forest fires eliminate underbrush, reducing the risk of major conflagrations. Small ground tremors can ease seismic tension and forestall big earthquakes.

Likewise, a healthy economy is anti-fragile, and requires more than just the absence of poverty. In a strong economy, stress improves productive capacity: a short recession or a minor shock gets rid of weaker players, so that employees and capital can shift to more promising companies and sectors.

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