Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Put Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill and Norman Borlaug on the dime

If I asked you how many names you recognize from the list of the first 7 United States presidents, what would that number be?

  • George Washington
  • John Adams
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • James Monroe
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Andrew Jackson

I'd guess that you recognize all 7.

Now, how many names do you recognize from this list?

  • Fritz Haber
  • Carl Bosch
  • Karl Landsteiner
  • Richard Lewisohn
  • Linn Enslow
  • Abel Wolman
  • Norman Borlaug

You might know Borlaug, but I’d bet that’s it. Yet each of these people are plausibly responsible for saving millions of lives, and in some cases, billions. 

That we know everyone on the first list and few, if any, names on the second list speaks to just how central politics is to our culture. Who is on our money and represented in our monuments? Typically, politicians. But we would do well to reconsider our moral priorities and honor those who have actually done the most good.

(For a terrific lecture by Steve Davies that inspired this post, see