Calculus in politics

In his October 1996 editorial in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, “Mathematics Is an Edifice, Not a Toolbox,” Hugo Rossi wrote:

In the fall of 1972 President Nixon announced that the rate of increase of inflation was decreasing. This was the first time a sitting president used the third derivative to advance his case for reelection.

Well, calculus made an appearance in this year’s political scene as well. Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden mentioned inflection points at a campaign stop at the College of Wooster, on September 17, 2008. Skip ahead to 2:45 in the video below for the calculus reference (or click here to jump directly to the right time).

Here is a transcript of his remarks:

Folks, remember your calculus classes from undergraduate school, you few crazy people who were engineers, God love ya? But all kidding aside, remember your calculus class you learned about an inflection point? That’s the point at which, like, you’re driving your car, where the steering wheel is dead straight, and once you make a move, even to a degree, you commit that automobile hurdling in a direction you can’t immediately change. Well, in American history, there have been about four or five inflection points…

That’s not how I teach inflection points, but it is still an interesting appearance of calculus on the stump.

[via Sum 1 to N]