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Norman Borlaug, R.I.P.:

Norman Borlaug, the Nobel-winning agricultural scientist largely credited with unleashing the "Green Revolution," died yesterday. Here's a profile of him from The Atlantic, "Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity," and a good interview with Ron Bailey at Reason.

UPDATE: More from Ron Bailey here.

tickknob (mail):
Many don't even know who Borlaug was. The media barely covered him even though his impact on human history was as great as anyone who has ever lived. He was simply not the media's kind of guy. He saved over a billion lives but did it without increasing the power of the state. The poor farmers he helped became less, not more, dependant on the state. That just will not do. For many on the left Borlaug was a catastrophe for the planet. Had he not lived the human population today would be significantly lower. And those who did live would be poorer. Leftist tend to believe, incorrectly in my view, that the poorer people are, the smaller will be their impact on the environment
9.13.2009 11:39am
pot meet kettle (mail):
Unbelievable that VC is celebrating a statist like Borlaug, who used government funding to experiment and find new crop varieties, and then was successful thanks to government subsidies and policies encouraging higher mechanization (such as equipment, water and electricity subsidies), as well as the use of high variety yields. For shame!
9.13.2009 12:11pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
My father worked for USAID in the 60s/70s so we certainly knew who Borlag was. I had the honor to meet him once.
9.13.2009 12:44pm
MnZ (mail):
Borlaug didn't just talk about the world's problems...he did something about them. Plus, he was modest, and he did more than all the talkers put together. So, it is unsurprising that the press - definitely members of the talking class - do not know who he is or care all that much.

However, I was heartened to see the Indian press trumpet his life. I guess a person's perspective changes when they are only a generation or two away from malnutrition.
9.13.2009 1:44pm
NorthernDave (mail):
Thanks for the posting...in the Bailey article Borlaug is noted as saying:

More than 30 years ago, Borlaug wrote, "One of the greatest threats to mankind today is that the world may be choked by an explosively pervading but well camouflaged bureaucracy."


Sounds more Libertarian than Statist :-)

(It seems to me Borlaug also was always focussed on improving the individual farmers' returns-for-effort rather than overweening statist organizing ala Stalin et al....and Borlaug's program undeniably worked as opposed to Uncle Joe's.....)
9.13.2009 2:32pm
subpatre (mail):
PotMeetKettle writes: ". . . used government funding . . . the use of high variety yields. For shame!"

Borlaug's political philosophy appears nonexistent. One later venture teamed a Japanese soft-fascist (funding) and socialist-leaning President Carter (organizing) to fund a crop improvement project: They were willing to save lives when no one else would.

Dr. Borlaug's life work was based on biological reality to reduce crop area, reduce agricultural chemicals, and increase food crop yield through science. There are consequences from this —farmland loss, increased national parks and monument areas, more disconnect between urban populations and agricultural reality, even illegal immigration. That Norman Borlaug was successful, and we failed to prepare for these results, it is his fault.

From providing India and Pakistan with abundant food to deploring anti-malarial insecticides, throughout his life, Dr. Borlaug was opposed by people who —with every imaginable excuse— objected to feeding the poor brown people of the world.

PotMeetKettle is a stark example; a reminder of those who would rather starve a billion living breathing human beings than cede one iota of political or economic power.
9.13.2009 2:35pm
Mark N. (www):

He saved over a billion lives but did it without increasing the power of the state. The poor farmers he helped became less, not more, dependant on the state.

I suspect he's being ignored partly because he did it without increasing the power of either government or corporations--- so gets ignored by both the left and right. Unlike with some current agricultural research, he didn't patent his improved seeds and require everyone who planet them to acquire a license; and he didn't make the seeds sterile so everyone would have to re-buy their seeds from his company every year. He just produced something massively helpful, and gave it away for free to everyone.
9.13.2009 2:50pm
tickknob (mail):
Unbelievable that VC is celebrating a statist like Borlaug, who used government funding to experiment and find new crop varieties, and then was successful thanks to government subsidies and policies encouraging higher mechanization (such as equipment, water and electricity subsidies), as well as the use of high variety yields. For shame!



Actually most of Borlaug's research funding came from the private sector, specifically the Rockefeller Foundation.
9.13.2009 3:13pm
vmark1:
What an amazing individual...RIP
9.13.2009 4:29pm
Curt Fischer:
I don't think anyone could hope to achieve as much as Borlaug did. He is truly a hero. When the marble halls to house the agronomy, biology, and engineering departments of tomorrow's universities are built, I hope that Borlaug's name is engraved on many of them.
9.13.2009 7:56pm
11-B/2O.B4:
Borlaug may well be relegated to the obscure sections of history, but it is a disgrace that in a world where no explanation is needed for Lindsay Lohan, a man like Borlaug isn't a household name. The man was a secular saint, and has probably done more for humanity than any other single entity, be it church, state or enterprise, in the last fifty years.
9.13.2009 7:57pm
11-B/2O.B4:
If you're unclear on Borlaug and his detractors, check this fun bit out (might be NSFW). The first half deals with Borlaug.


9.13.2009 8:07pm
11-B/2O.B4:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIvNopv9Pa8
9.13.2009 8:07pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Borlaug's latest efforts were devoted to combating wheat rust. In that endeavor he worked with industry, governments and NGOs as well as UN organizations. The weak attempts to kidnap his legacy here are shameful.
9.13.2009 9:20pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I am a bit puzzled. All over the 'Net, people are saying Borlaug was an unknown, although apparently he was known to all those people posting on the 'Net.

I was amused by pot meets kettle; indeed it is true that Borlaug's financial supporters were mostly bleeding heart left-libs, and it is true that if market forces had been relied upon, those billion people would be dead -- or never born.

But I think subpatre's take is more thoughtful and accurate.

Curiously, when the World Food Prize was established in order to institutionalize what might be called Borlaugism, it went broke. It was rescued, financially, by John Ruan, another Iowa boy.
9.13.2009 11:20pm
11-B/2O.B4:
Meh. I did a paper on Borlaug for a gen credit humanities class, and no one, not even the prof, had heard of him. He's well known in certain circles, obviously, but in the general american public? I think not.

And where Borlaug got his funding is immaterial as far as I'm concerned. Most of it I approve of, a very little bit I wouldn't have voted for, but the point is he collected it, focused it, and did great things with it. Philosophies are only as good as their results, and whatever his philosophy was, Norman Borlaug got the best kind of results.

People attempting to make political hay are barking up the wrong tree. Yeah, he used some government money, and a bit from shady sources and yes, PETA and Greenpeace tried to discredit him and in some instances frustrated his efforts (the Zambia debacle, for instance). Doesn't matter. Borlaug represents to me what can be done with science for the good of mankind. If you think it's more important to try to insult opposing political views on an internet board, then as you were. The day you feed a billion or so people, I'll listen to you. Even Jesus didn't manage a trick that big (according to his supporters).
9.14.2009 12:23am
Finance lawyer (mail):
I got to know Dr Borlaug quite well in the early 1970s. He was an extraordinary man. To a consequentialist (such as I am), he must rank as one of the greatest men of all time. He saved more lives than Hitler, Stalin and Mao combined to kill.

He set out in a modest way, with modest means, to apply his immodest talents to help the world's poorest, hungriest people. And then he did it. He achieved neither fortune nor fame. His reward was the satisfaction of a job well done.
9.14.2009 12:56am
Indian (mail):
Norman Borlough is known as the founder of the green revolution in India. At least as far his being known, in my country, is concerned, he is brightly mentioned in our geography textbooks.

He is easily a saint in my country, and a revered figure across the length and breadth of India. As someone would have mentioned, we the living are greatful to him, that we are living, and in a very large part of the population, ....that we are at all born.

NB, Rest in Peace.
9.14.2009 11:22am
ArthurKirkland:
Dr. Borlaug's remarkable record of insight, effort, results and altruism generates a question:

Is there any reason he would not be a strong contender for 'greatest man to have inhabited Earth?'

Who would compete with him for 'greatest man to have inhabited Earth?'
9.14.2009 12:43pm
pot meet kettle (mail):
You know, the easy thing would be to let the ends justify the means. Sure, it is popular to shed a principled opposition to state intervention just because it saves a million lives or ten million lives or whatever, but then, where do you draw the line?

Borlaug strengthened the government's hand immeasurably by enlisting it in his fight to improve farmers' quality of life, and making them dependent on their largesse as they became addicted to resource intensive techniques subsidised by Big Government, merely because it improved their quality of life.

You can draw a direct line from measures like that, to government munificence today which strengthens its hand by patronage vehicles such as stimulus packages etc. The fact that they might have staved off a deep recession, kept people in homes, or stanched, albeit slightly, catastrophic unemployment, is certainly no reason to support them.
9.14.2009 1:10pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I hope you're kiddin', but considering what else I have read at VC, I cannot be sure.
9.14.2009 1:53pm
11-B/2O.B4:

Borlaug strengthened the government's hand immeasurably by enlisting it in his fight to improve farmers' quality of life, and making them dependent on their largesse as they became addicted to resource intensive techniques subsidised by Big Government, merely because it improved their quality of life.


He did no such thing. He refused to sterilize his seeds, which meant that once introduced, teh farmers could simply reserve a portion of their harvest to plant the next year, instead of having to buy (or have given to them) more seeds yearly (which would alter my opinion of him greatly). Yes, he used some government money in the research process, but he made no one dependent on the government, in fact, I would argue he did the opposite. He placed the power of food production with the individual, giving people the means to support themselves without further government intervention. If you cannot see the difference between giving a farmer a sack of seeds once and sending a welfare recipient a check monthly, I just don't know what I can do for you. Your stand is not "principled", it's simplistic. There's a line to be drawn between "ends/means" discrimination and just plain idiocy.
9.14.2009 10:41pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

Your stand is not "principled", it's simplistic.


Farmers in several countries are addicted to tremendous subsidies for power, water, equipment and seeds, as a result of his legacy. And as a result are dependent on the kindness of the government, and form a reliable drain on natural resources which would have been much better expended as tax subsidies on the rich.
9.14.2009 11:10pm
11-B/2O.B4:
typical bullshit. Pot, your attempted sarcastro lacks one thing. Any sort of understanding of your opponents. Credit where it's due, his distortions are based in something of a proper concept, yours are just foolish.
9.15.2009 9:34am
pot meet kettle (mail):

Any sort of understanding of your opponents.


Who are my opponents?
9.15.2009 1:51pm

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