12/29/2014 10:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

If Only John Dillinger Had Memorized His Multiplication Tables


It used to be that if you wanted to get rich quick, you'd rob a bank. Now all you have to do is to become a math wiz. Here's how much you can make as a math wiz. The New York Times ("The Multimillion-Dollar Minds of 5 Mathematical Masters," NYT, 6/23/14) reported that Maxim Kontsevich:

"Who works at the Institute of advanced Scientific Studies outside Paris, won the 2012 Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences an honor accompanied by $1 million award. Then a couple of months later, he was among nine people who received a new physics prize--and $3 million each--from Yuri Milner, a Russian who dropped out of graduate studies in physics and became a successful investor in Internet companies like Facebook. A few weeks ago, Dr. Kontsevich heard from Mr. Milner again. Mr. Milner told him he was one of five inaugural winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, financed by Mr. Milner and Mark Zuckerberg."

The Breakthrough pays $3 million. So that's a total of $7 million which is not a bad payday. On a salary scale it almost puts a top mathematician on par with the CEO of a major bank, though not quite. Jamie Dimon, the top dog at JP. Morgan Chase got $20 million in a year in which his bank was forced to pay out over $20 billion in settlements ("Dimon Gets Raise After Rough Year," WSJ, 1/24/14). But surely the kind of math involved in derivatives would be small potatoes for someone like Kontesevich. If you're a math wiz, you're going to be able parlay your winnings into the kind of big bucks earned by hedge fund honchos like SAC Capital's equally embattled Steven A. Cohen. What math whizzes like Kontsevich have over bank chairmen and hedge fund meisters is that they don't have to issue questionable securities or fall under suspicion because of their subordinates off color trading practices. For them making a fortune is even easier than robbing a bank.

(This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}