Posts Tagged ‘Norman Borlaug’

A John Galt thought experiment

April 29, 2011

In Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, the people on whom the nation depends to keep functioning – mainly entrepreneurs and their best middle managers – went on strike.  Led by the mastermind John Galt, they hid out in a secret place called Galt’s Gulch until the economy and society crumbled and the people were willing to give them their due.

I propose a thought experiment.  Make up your own list of indispensable people and then match it against the Forbes magazine list of the world’s richest people.  Or go down the Forbes 400 list and decide what would be lost if each of the members “went Galt.”

Norman Borlaug

One of my heroes is Norman Borlaug, the architect of the Green Revolution in Asia.  He of course did not produce the genetically improved crops by himself.  He was the head of a team of geneticists and agronomists.  But I think it is safe to say that without him the Green Revolution would not have happened when it did.  The environmental writer Gregg Easterbrook said that Borlaug’s work may have saved the lives of as many people as Hitler and Stalin murdered.

He had many of the qualities of an Ayn Rand hero – competence, determination, original thinking, indifference to public opinion.  His work was strongly opposed by neo-malthusians who thought saving the lives of people in overpopulated Third World countries was an exercise in futility.  But in one important respect, he did not fit the John Galt mold.  He did not get rich, or attempt to get rich, from his work.

Or, if you are not a fan of the Green Revolution, consider Jonas Salk, the creator of the Salk vaccine, or Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the software that makes possible the World Wide Web.  They made their discoveries freely available to the public, without charging a licensing free and without trying to determine who deserved their help and who didn’t.  This is in contrast to the fictional John Galt, who withheld his perpetual energy source until the world paid him tribute.  By Ayn Rand’s standard, Jonas Salk and Tim Berners-Lee were lacking in self-esteem.