Dark Green Day

by Don Boudreaux on September 13, 2009

in Foreign Aid, Health, History, Innovation

A man who truly and radically and wonderfully ‘made a difference’ – Norman Borlaug – has died.  This father of the Green Revolution directly enabled millions of persons to live healthier, longer lives — indeed, millions to be born who otherwise would never have lived.

I blogged on Mr. Borlaug back in May 2004.

It’s distressing, I can’t help adding, that dead politicians are often canonized in the popular press while most of humanity will go to their graves never hearing the names of, or learning of the contributions of, genuine heroes of humanity such as Norman Borlaug.

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David September 13, 2009 at 3:09 pm

It’s sad that I see this story here and on Reason, but not on the Chicago Tribune RSS feed.

Anonymous September 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Ted Kennedy was the direct cause of a woman’s death and is canonized by the media when he passes away.

Borlaug benefited millions and the media yawns. Or more likely see his name and have no idea who he is or what he did.

But they are quick to let us know the name of the teenager that gor Sarah Palin’s daughter pregnant.

Gil September 14, 2009 at 2:00 am

That reminds when Princess Di died and what happened thereafter in the West. About a week later Mother Teresa died and the announcement of her death amounted to little more than a footnote in the Western media as they were still milking Princess Di’s death.

Anonymous September 13, 2009 at 4:06 pm

A sad day… A great hero.. Scientists who give so much get to little credit.. Politicians who take so much… get too much

Val September 13, 2009 at 6:05 pm

The media does not want to notice because many leftists fault the Green Revolution for derailing socialist and communist causes in many countries. Apparently increasing stability in a country by giving the starving masses more food to eat is a bad thing, and so the memory of Borlaug shouldn’t be promoted.

Justin P September 14, 2009 at 1:04 am

Apparently increasing stability in a country by giving the starving masses more food to eat is a bad thing

Well, they deify FDR and he slaughtered 6 million pigs so that the farmers could have higher prices at the expense of the millions of people who were starving nationwide.
They still back farm subsidies that pay to under produce food, thereby causing millions more to starve unnecessarily.

Keeping people starving is an essential tactic of the fascist and the socialist, it make the masses more easier to control.

Anonymous September 13, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Politicians like to talk about elections having consequences. Human action has consequences.

Anonymous September 13, 2009 at 9:34 pm

Even his alma mator only has a small old building named after him, with a bust in the lobby. Although, that tribute was given to him long before his death, so maybe that is something.

There is no doubt. He had the major role in saving millions of lives–a toll that will increase over time.

Anonymous September 13, 2009 at 10:44 pm

He seems to have contributed so much. It’s nice to give a tribute to him here.

A White September 14, 2009 at 12:09 am

It seems ironic to bemoan media coverage of particular people on a website devoted to emergence, after all isn’t the current state of news coverage a result of complex emergence.

The more notable irony is that this man whose innovation made such a contribution to the complexity of human existence and surely saved lives has an obituary with the following sentence.

“He was frustrated throughout his life that governments did not do more to tackle what he called “the population monster” by lowering birth rates.”

His life gave freedom to so many, yet at his core he appeared to hate people having the most basic freedom of family.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 2:10 am

“isn’t the current state of news coverage a result of complex emergence”Yes. Which is why it makes sense to bemoan it–it truly is a reflection of many people’s values.”His life gave freedom to so many, yet at his core he appeared to hate people having the most basic freedom of family”People are complex, and you are right that is a contemptible idea. But the impact of his life is on the green revolution (in its older usage), and was not manifest in this contradictory and rather common evil idea.You will not find many of humanity’s greatest benefactors who are not is some way contemptible and contradictory–Henry Ford, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, to name just a few. It may even be through no fault of their own that their good ideas had much greater impact than their evil ones.

Gil September 14, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Why is that necessarily an irony? What’s the point of creating technology to grow more food just for the population to grow in kind and soon even the new agricultural technology won’t be able to produce enough food? Besides were that many people really worried that Westerners were going to starve en massse? The poor parts of the world don’t have a resource problem they have political, tribal and cultural problems. Millions of Africans die from war, disease starvation in rates that make the Iraq War look like a bitchslap fest.

After all, before the mass starvation in the U.S.S.R., Russia was the “granary of Europe”. Before the modern starvation in Zimbabwe, Rhodesia was the “breadbasket of Africa”. Shouldn’t Africa have been a food exporter ages ago if were populated with decent countries and entrepreneurial people even without the contribution Norman Borlaug?

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 12:23 pm

“His life gave freedom to so many, yet at his core he appeared to hate people having the most basic freedom of family.”Because of this I would draw exactly the opposite conclusion:”He was frustrated throughout his life that governments did not do more to tackle what he called “the population monster” by lowering birth rates.”Why, A. White, would you draw the conclusion that Norman Borlaug hated people? Being frustrated that governments did not do more to work towards lowering birth rates, particularly in countries where rampant population growth ensures starvation and poverty, is evidence to me that Borlaug loved people and wanted them to realize that with their limited resources, having more babies was just like shooting themselves in the foot and letting it get infected with gangrene, a slow death to be sure but death none-the-less.In other words, while Borlaug was working to increase the food supply for these countries, and suffering the hardships detailed in his life story, their own governments were gutlessly slipping their responsibility to educate their populace and encourage less pregnancies. Tackling the “population monster” by lowering birth rates, does not have to mean force or or abortion.Do you have proof that Borlaug advocated forcefully preventing pregnancies and mandating abortions? Now that could be taken as hateful.

Gil September 14, 2009 at 3:29 pm

“Tackling the ‘population monster’ by lowering birth rates, does not have to mean force or or abortion.”

*cough* *gasp* *wheeze*

I agree with you about that. Unfortunately many Libertarians and Conservatives think the opposite. So when a Liberal says “people should consider just have three children instead of ten because your three children will now all reach adulthood as opposed to the olden days where you had to have ten children to have three adults” others hear “you should have ten children but pick your three favourite and take the other seven out and shoot them or else the government will take seven at random and shoot them”.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 1:21 am

Norman Borlaug, A man whose lifelong efforts promoted independence and lifted an enormous amount of people to it; and, we wonder why the left looney MSM ignores him.

The man was an anathema to the left. How could Norman Borlaug create the conditions where people could eat without government feeding them. The man was clearly anti-social.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Which left media? I read about it first in the New York Times and the Washington Post accounts.

I’m not sure why you’d contrast Borlaug with the left. Maybe with some environmentalist fringe. But he used science to lift millions out of poverty. Sounds like a liberal (and conservative, and centrist) hero to me.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Disingenuous Kuehn,

Borlaug dies roughly the same time as Teddy Kennedy.

Teddy Kennedy was a worthless piece of cowardly shit who never contributed one useful thing to humanity, and gets adoring constant media coverage fit for Jesus, all because he mouthed stupid socialist platitudes in the right way and at the right times, and all with extreme self serving intent.

Norman Borlaug was a unique contributor to humanity, as pointed out he literally fed billions through his hard work, and he gets what, DK? WTF does he get in the way of eulogies in the MSM? A paltry paragraph or two buried in the pages of two leftwing rags. And evidently less than that nationwide.

Now why, you silly child, would I want to contrast Borlaug with the left? Well, gosh. Maybe it is because Borlaug wanted to help people by feeding them, and without strings attached. Now in contrast, the left wants to control people, so they use the strings attached illusion of aid, most of us identify as vote buying.

Quite the vivid contrast, isn’t it, sonny?

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Oh right!

The leftists wanted to decide when people could eat. OK, that makes a whole lot more sense now, vidyohs.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Duplicitous Kuehn,

Your youth and ignorance shows on your protest, my child.

An ancient Chinese proverb is “You do what the man who gives you your rice bowl tells you to do.”

Control the food source and you control the people.

And, yes, sonny, the left has shown its utter ruthlessness in using food as a weapon, something virtually unheard of in a conservative society.

4 + million condemned by Josef Stalin, in the 1930s, to starve to death in the Ukraine. Untold millions starved to death in China. Socialism is a tyranny, and in a tyranny those who are the favored eat first, if any thing is left maybe the commoners get something. The use of food as a weapon was not and is not unique to Josef Stalin.

Anonymous September 15, 2009 at 12:37 am

OK, I’m coining a new phrase for a common logical fallacy: reductio ad stalinum.

It’s the logical fallacy of trying to talk your opponent into defending a Soviet dictator as if that had anything to do with what the hell you were initially talking about. The skillful opponent will realize this and point out he’s under no obligation to defend the thoughts and actions of someone he’s always been disgusted with and would never advocate.

Anonymous September 15, 2009 at 1:28 am

Duplicitous Kuehn,You look at my post and decide to try and claim I am asking you to defend a soviet dictator instead of addressing my point that yes the left does use food as a weapon, the soviet dictator merely provides the example, one example. And, it responded to your silly-ass challenge.Idiot child.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 11:08 pm

As was pointed out elsewhere; St Franklin of Roosevelt ordered that hogs be slaughtered and discarded, in order to raise pork prices. This happened while my grandmother was a child, and her family was scratching out a bare subsistence in the hardscrabble of SE Colorado. She lost a brother and a sister to disease borne of malnutrition during this period. My grandmother has told many tales of eating maybe three meals a week when the Depression was at its worst in this region. You may believe a bright man like Roosevelt was ignorant about the consequences of his actions. I think he understood his Uncle Joe Stalin quite well.

The Other Eric September 14, 2009 at 1:37 am

If you get a chance, read An Edible History of Mankind, by Tom-Standage. This is a global history of agriculture, food, culture, science and much more. It does a great job of telling Borlaug’s story in context — where it is even more impressive.

Christopher Skyi September 14, 2009 at 5:59 am

Borlaug also declared himself skeptical of man-made climate fears in 2007. “I do believe we are in a period where, no question, the temperatures are going up. But is this a part of another one of those (natural) cycles that have brought on glaciers and caused melting of glaciers?” Borlaug asked, according to a September 21, 2007 article in Saint Paul Pioneer Press. The article reported that Borlaug is “not sure, and he doesn’t think the science is, either.” Borlaug added, “How much would we have to cut back to take the increasing carbon dioxide and methane production to a level so that it’s not a driving force?” We don’t even know how much.”

Hat Tip: “Watts Up With That” blog

Syphax September 14, 2009 at 6:03 am

A good summary of his accomplishments:


Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 11:45 am

Indeed. And I think that all the Econ blogs are giving a nod to his achievements even though the regular media has more or less just looked past his work. I’ve read estimates that suggest that his work was responsible for saving 25million lives.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 1:41 pm

But where do you get that they are “looking past his work”? I’ve seen great articles in the major newspapers on him.

It’s sad that he doesn’t get the coverage that Michael Jackson did – but that’s more a function of the type of news that private consumers are demanding than it is of anything else. Borlaug should be a celebrity. It’s not “the media’s” fault that he’s not.

A.J. September 14, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I’m no Borlaug expert, but after reading the NYT piece on his death (and life), it seems like the successful war vs. famine is one of the few examples of a government effort that worked. But maybe Borlaug’s successes were primarily achieved through private charities. In any case, the NYT piece didn’t indicate that private businesses had much to do with the solution, although I’m sure they did eventually produce the seed and fertilizer used in the green revolution.

Anonymous September 15, 2009 at 1:34 am

Central planning and government over sight, only explanation. No private force could possibly do what Borlaug did.

Anonymous September 14, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Look at the comment’s section of the New York Times article on Mr. Borlaug’s death. The general concensus seems to be that lots of people who should have died were unfortunately allowed to live by the evils works of this man.

I don’t know how these people live with themselves. They would never think they were the ones that should have died.

Anonymous September 15, 2009 at 2:44 am

Don’t call me an idiot or a child. The fact that you ceaselessly resort to that kind of crap says a lot about the quality of your arguments. You associate everything terrible with leftists – in one post it was violence. Now it’s wanting to control what people eat. I never made the claim that all leftists are perfect, did I? No. What I was challenging was the ridiculous assumption that Borlaug was somehow anathema to the left. Mentioning one crackpot, tyrannical leftist doesn’t disprove that. To disprove that you need to demonstrate the Borlaug is anathema to leftism in general, not one leftist in particular. And that is ridiculous on it’s face and you’ve made no effort to or progress toward proving it. But as usual, you’re comfortable strutting around declaring it to be true, blathering on about Stalin when it does nothing to advance your case. Stalin may be a leftist, but Stalin is not the left. Borlaug was a good man. A wide spectrum of people rightfully recognized that. Let’s not twist his epitaph into an ideological feud.

Gil September 15, 2009 at 11:14 am

T’is obvious Daniel that vidyohs is one of those extreme far-right tardos who so far to the right that all people who are far left, left of centre and those who moderately right of centre all look as though they occupy the same spot. For someone who lives on Mars, New York and London would seem to occupy the same point of blue light in the night sky and thus could be considered close together from a Martian perspective. Besides when it comes to letting criminals roam free that the realm of the Civil LIBERTARIAN.

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