Men and Woman of the Century
Jude Wanniski
December 30, 1999


Memo To: Walter Isaacson, Time
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: My Picks

I was glad to see you did not go with Franklin Roosevelt as your "Man of the Century," Walter, although I know he was your personal choice. Albert Einstein is a few steps ahead of him, I think, and was a much better choice. Over the last dozen years, Polyconomics has selected a "Man of the Year," reflecting my own idiosyncratic tastes, but this year I decided to skip the year and follow your lead with the century. As far as the "Man of the Millennium," I go instantly to Abe Lincoln, for without him, I think we would still be two countries and it might have taken another century or so to repair the damage to popular democracy. Here, though, are the folks who come to mind as my personal favorites.

1. Winston Churchill. It was Winnie who cleaned up the mess left by Neville Chamberlain and essentially stopped Hitler long enough for the Russians, and Ike, to finish him off.

2. Albert Einstein. For all the reasons you cite, plus his gift to mankind of nuclear weapons. Before Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, there were several tens of millions of people who died as a result of war in this century. In the last 55 years of the 20th, global leaders were much more careful about getting into hot wars, with mutually assured destruction hanging over their heads. The number of war deaths dropped by an order of magnitude.

3. Ronald Reagan. The U.S. economy and its leadership in the Cold War was in a tailspin when Reagan came along in 1980. Reagan set his sights on getting the economy going again on a non-inflationary track and also ending the policy of containment of the Evil Empire. He wanted to drive a stake through its heart, but without loss of life. Wow! He did all that, often dragging his Cabinet along. Most people forget he had a bachelor's degree in economics when classical theory was still taught, which is why he connected so well with supply-siders.

4. Pope John XXIII. The Catholic Church needed reform badly and John XXIII delivered with Vatican II. I was tempted to go with John Paul II, who really made the reforms work, and who has been a powerful force for global reconciliation right down to these last days of the century. But Vatican II did break the ice and from a personal standpoint was critical in getting me back into the church.

5. Francis Crick. The British partner in the double helix team with his sidekick Watson. Almost single-handedly, he showed that (1) All life -- plant and animal -- has the same genetic code which works the same way to tell the plant or animal cell which protein to make and (2) The principal difference between plants and animals is that plants can make -- from scratch -- all of the 23 amino acids coded for by DNA to make proteins -- and animals can't make any of them. How's that for an achievement by one man?? Time discarded Crick from consideration on the grounds that someone else was bound to make that discovery if he didn't. Hmmmm.

6. Franklin Roosevelt. FDR inherited one godawful mess from Herbert Hoover in 1932 and in many ways made things worse, which is why I'd argue strenuously against giving him the No. 1 spot. We know he goaded Japan into Pearl Harbor and there is even some question whether he actually knew Pearl was going to be hit when it was, but welcomed it in order to galvanize the nation into a war footing to help the Allied powers in Europe. His leadership in those dark days far outweighed the errors, and FDR was right in seeing that great risks had to be taken, and with many risky trials are bound to come many errors. He did not fear fear.

7. Mao Tse-tung. The longer I've studied China's history in this century, the more I've come to admire Mao for his achievements on behalf of the Chinese people. I don't put him in the Evil class with Hitler and Stalin, genuine monsters who enjoyed spilling blood. The most populous nation on Earth, China was in total chaos after WWII and the leaders we backed, Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang, only made matters worse. There could have been tens of millions of lives lost when Mao came out of the woods and brought order, especially fixing the monetary system on sound Marxist principles. Mao also saw the futility of the communist experiment early enough to point China back into the world, with Nixon's help, and pave the way for Deng Xiaopeng in 1977.

8. Margaret Thatcher. Maggie actually brought the Tories back to power under a supply-side flag in 1979, before Reagan's victory in 1980. The Brits also had been in a tail-spin, having invented Keynesian economics. It was Maggie who brought down the ridiculous income-tax rates -- 96% at the top -- giving the "experiment" in the Laffer Curve a head start. I'd like to think Reagan could have achieved all he did without her, but something tells me she was a critical partner, both in rescuing the world economy and ending the Cold War on our terms.

9. George Gershwin. Where would we be without music? How awful to contemplate. And in the 20th century, who can top Gershwin for his contributions? There were plenty of black artists early in the century who fed into Gershwin's synthesis, but it was George who brought it to flower. How many rappers and rockers and jazz artists and pop artists -- even Elvis and the Beatles -- can trace back to the musical roots of this skinny Jewish kid from New York?

10. The Wright Brothers. For getting the 20th century off to a flying start.