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Norman Borlaug Did Build That

UnknownOver on his Facebook page, David Boaz reminds us that today would have been the 102nd birthday of one of humanity’s greatest benefactors: the late Norman Borlaug.  Mr. Borlaug’s scientific research made it possible for literally millions of people to avoid starvation or malnutrition.

Mr. Borlaug died in September of 2009, just a few weeks after Sen. Ted Kennedy went to his own reward.  David’s post reminds me also that I wrote a letter to the New York Times when Mr. Borlaug died – a letter that was never published and that I have not shared at Cafe Hayek until today.  It’s pasted below.

By saving millions of people from starvation, green-revolution father Norman Borlaug arguably has done more for humanity than has any other human being of the past century (“Norman Borlaug, 95, Dies; Led Green Revolution,” Sept. 13).

Yet unlike Sen. Kennedy’s, his death will go relatively unnoticed.  He’ll certainly not be canonized in the popular mind. Alas, in our world, melodramatic loud-mouths thunder to and fro in the foreground, doing little of any value while stealing most of the credit for civilization.  Meanwhile, in the background, millions upon millions of decent, creative people work diligently at their specialties – welding, waiting tables, performing orthopedic surgery, designing shopping malls, researching plant genetics – each contributing to the prosperity of the rest.

Some contributions are larger than others (as Dr. Borlaug’s certainly was), but even a contribution as colossal as his is quickly taken for granted, any notice of it submerged beneath the self-congratulation, swagger, and bellicosity of the politicians who pretend to be prosperity’s source.  How wrong.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030