Heroic Passenger Recognizes Quantitative Economics as True Threat to America

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Forget ethnic profiling. The real danger facing America these days is economists and their differential equations:

On Thursday evening, a 40-year-old man — with dark, curly hair, olive-skinned and an exotic foreign accent — boarded a plane. It was a regional jet making a short, uneventful hop from Philadelphia to nearby Syracuse.

….The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over….He appeared laser-focused — perhaps too laser-focused — on the task at hand, those strange scribblings.

….Then, for unknown reasons, the plane turned around and headed back to the gate….Finally the pilot came by, locking eyes on the real culprit behind the delay: that darkly-complected foreign man….The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

The curly-haired man laughed. He laughed because those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or some other terrorist code. They were math. Yes, math. A differential equation, to be exact.

It’s about goddam time, I say. Personally, I’d say that economists and their math have done a lot more damage to the world recently than terrorists and their bombs. We owe this flip-flop-wearing woman our thanks.

On a more serious note, can it really be true that no one recognized what decorated young Italian economist Guido Menzio was doing? Sure, maybe his seatmate didn’t recognize math. But neither the flight attendant nor the pilot recognized math-ish scribblings when they came back to take a look at things? “What might prevent an epidemic of paranoia?” Menzio wrote on Facebook. “It is hard not to recognize in this incident, the ethos of [Donald] Trump’s voting base.” And that’s quite true: Donald Trump is notoriously an idiot at math. I suppose his followers are too.

POSTSCRIPT: You know what’s missing from this story? The actual page of math Menzio was working on in the plane. Admit it: you want to see it too. You’re all such a bunch of nerds.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate