Please Assume Total Ignorance (otherwise you will get caught out by the anti-capitalist security guard and it will be embarrassing)
“Are you here for business?”
The slick grey-haired man at the security desk is sitting in his glass box at JFK airport, his blue eyes flicking between me and my documents. My plane was delayed from London and I’ve just stood “on line”, as New Yorkers say, for forty-five minutes.
“Yes.” Keep my answers short and to the point – these guys can be grumpy. I know exactly what to do.
“You’re not here for pleasure?” He lifts an eyebrow.
“Only a little bit.”
“What do you do ma’am?”
“I’m a journalist.”
He lifts the other eyebrow. “You don’t look like a journalist.”
“Oh.” I’m not sure how to answer this. “I’m a financial journalist.”
“Very good.” He actually looks impressed. “You know about finance?”
“More than when I started,” I attempt a joke. It doesn’t make him laugh.
“You know about economics?”
I nod, confident. I instantly realise this is a mistake. He is the cat, I am the mouse, and the fun begins.
He leans in and looks at me over the top of his glasses. “You know who coined the phrase “the invisible hand”?”
“Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.”
“Ah, I should have known that. He’s from Scotland, as am—“
“Do you know why it’s invisible?”
“Because it doesn’t exist.” Satisfied, he sweeps up my papers and starts to shuffle them on the desk. “Give me your right four fingers, ma’am.”
I place my fingers on the green scanner. Then my right thumb.
“You’re not here for pleasure,” he continues, drawling on his vowels. “Are you here for pain? Is that painful?”
I laugh, although it is getting slightly painful.
“Do you know John Maynard Keynes?”
“Yes. He invented modern portfolio theory.”
The security guard gives me a challenging look. I gulp. No, silly mistake, that was Harry Markowitz, and he knows it.
“Left four fingers,” he instructs me. “Left thumb”.
He reaches around behind him, takes an official-looking bit of green paper, and tears it in half. Has this man just ripped up my dream of living in New York?
Instead, he starts to write names of economists. There are about 200 people in the queue behind me.
“Do you know the best way to rob a bank, according to William K. Black?” He pauses for effect. “To own one!”
“I don’t plan on robbing any banks,” I reply curtly, feeling a small bead of sweat forming on my forehead.
He writes that name down, his tongue over his bottom lip.
“Do you know Richard D. Wolff?”
“Do you know what’s wrong with capitalism?” He looks up, and his mouth twitches. “Capitalists.”
I look to my left and see the next woman in line, eyes wide and staring, tapping her foot impatiently.
“Have you heard of Catherine Austin Fitts?” he asks me.
“I don’t think so.”
With each admission of defeat, the list gets longer. If I am the mouse, he has grabbed my tail with his claws and is shaking me about.
“Paul Craig Roberts?”
“The name does ring a bell—“
This interrogation goes on for a few more minutes. Local time in London is almost 3am. My limbs are tired, my eyes are puffy, my mouth is dry. My brain is clearly empty.Do I know about economics? Why, sir, sure I do!
“Do you know Michael Hudson?”
To think I had been worried about my small stash of prescribed painkillers. I shake my head and avoid his eyes. I should have said I wrote about the NHS, or the European migrant crisis – something that is off the U.S. curriculum.
“Do you know what the forecast is for Goldman Sachs?” His mouth twitches. “Greedy.”
I want to tell him I’m not an evil capitalist. Please let me in to your country.
“Sir, did you study economics?” I ask him, trying to veer the conversation away from the failed exam.
“I do now!” I get the feeling this guy lost his pension in the 2008 credit crunch. He hands me the green bit of paper, and nods at it. “You should know these.”
The security man gives a mean, hawking cough and raises his hand over the glass to wave through the next victim. I mutter my thanks, grab my visa and scurry away. Welcome to the United States, you youthful, naïve ignoramus.
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