Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Number.... I've Lost Count
"...[H]as been credited." That's a classic example of the weaselly passive voice if I ever saw one.
Steven Pinkner: "The Moral Instinct"
Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug? And which do you think is the least admirable? For most people, it’s an easy question. Mother Teresa, famous for ministering to the poor in Calcutta, has been beatified by the Vatican, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and ranked in an American poll as the most admired person of the 20th century. Bill Gates, infamous for giving us the Microsoft dancing paper clip and the blue screen of death, has been decapitated in effigy in “I Hate Gates” Web sites and hit with a pie in the face. As for Norman Borlaug . . . who the heck is Norman Borlaug?
Yet a deeper look might lead you to rethink your answers. Borlaug, father of the “Green Revolution” that used agricultural science to reduce world hunger, has been credited with saving a billion lives, more than anyone else in history.
And most of those "Green Revolution" techniques were developed to be usable primarily on large cash-crop plantations, with subsidized irrigation water, on land from which peasant subsistence farmers had been evicted. So saying he "saved a billion lives" is a lot like saying someone "provided a billion crutches" when he's working in league with the people who broke all those legs in the first place. Yeah, I guess he reduced the rate of starvation among people who were robbed of their own land, on which they otherwise might have been feeding themselves without a problem.
Gates, in deciding what to do with his fortune, crunched the numbers and determined that he could alleviate the most misery by fighting everyday scourges in the developing world like malaria, diarrhea and parasites.
Hmmm. Let's change just one word: "Capone, in deciding what to do with his fortune, crunched the numbers...."
The "morality" of it depends quite a bit on how that "fortune" was obtained in the first place. And considering that Gates and his partner in crime Ballmer are two of the most odious Copyright Nazis in the world, and that Microsoft's entire business model depends on state measures like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to protect them from market competition, it's fair to say Gates was being generous with stolen money. If you're looking for someone doing something admirable for the Third World, how about the people promoting open-source software in countries too poor to afford Gates' gold-plated turd?
Addendum. A couple of readers suggested I might have been too harsh on Borlaug. I think I hinted (albeit in a snarky manner) that he probably did save people from starvation given the fact that most of the starvation had been caused in the first place by landed oligarchs and latifundistas in collusion with agribusiness interests. But I was probably a bit too snarky, if I gave the impression that he bore personal culpability for the actions of those landed and agribusiness interests, or that he consciously colluded with their crimes in order to enrich himself. So to put it in a less snarky manner, Borlaug may well have been motivated by an altruistic desire to save lives, given the constraints. His worst fault, if that, was probably accepting the existing distribution of power and land as a natural state of affairs, and failing to grasp the potential for small-scale subsistence agriculture as an alternative, absent the sort of thuggery faced by peasants.