Fat tails + nonlinear feedback means that the majority of successful traders were successful due to luck, not skill. It's painful to live in the shadow of such competitors.What other fields are dominated by noisy feedback loops? See Success vs Ability , Nonlinearity and noisy outcomes , The illusion of skill and Fake alpha.
Nassim N. Taleb
Abstract: A spurious tail is the performance of a certain number of operators that is entirely caused by luck, what is called the “lucky fool” in Taleb (2001). Because of winner-take-all-effects (from globalization), spurious performance increases with time and explodes under fat tails in alarming proportions. An operator starting today, no matter his skill level, and ability to predict prices, will be outcompeted by the spurious tail. This paper shows the effect of powerlaw distributions on such spurious tail. The paradox is that increase in sample size magnifies the role of luck.
... The “spurious tail” is therefore the number of persons who rise to the top for no reasons other than mere luck, with subsequent rationalizations, analyses, explanations, and attributions. The performance in the “spurious tail” is only a matter of number of participants, the base population of those who tried. Assuming a symmetric market, if one has for base population 1 million persons with zero skills and ability to predict starting Year 1, there should be 500K spurious winners Year 2, 250K Year 3, 125K Year 4, etc. One can easily see that the size of the winning population in, say, Year 10 depends on the size of the base population Year 1; doubling the initial population would double the straight winners. Injecting skills in the form of better-than-random abilities to predict does not change the story by much.
Because of scalability, the top, say 300, managers get the bulk of the allocations, with the lion’s share going to the top 30. So it is obvious that the winner-take-all effect causes distortions ...
Conclusions: The “fooled by randomness” effect grows under connectivity where everything on the planet flows to the “top x”, where x is becoming a smaller and smaller share of the top participants. Today, it is vastly more acute than in 2001, at the time of publication of (Taleb 2001). But what makes the problem more severe than anticipated, and causes it to grow even faster, is the effect of fat tails. For a population composed of 1 million track records, fat tails multiply the threshold of spurious returns by between 15 and 30 times.
Generalization: This condition affects any business in which prevail (1) some degree of fat-tailed randomness, and (2) winner-take-all effects in allocation.
To conclude, if you are starting a career, move away from investment management and performance related lotteries as you will be competing with a swelling future spurious tail. Pick a less commoditized business or a niche where there is a small number of direct competitors. Or, if you stay in trading, become a market-maker.
Bonus question: what are the ramifications for tax and economic policies (i.e., meant to ensure efficiency and just outcomes) of the observation that a particular industry is noise dominated?