Was Gorbachev the Most Influential Man of the Second Half of the 20th Century?
By Bryan Caplan
Tonight I’m going to see Mikhail Gorbachev, last dictator of the Soviet Union. I’ve heard he’s really boring. I plan to leave early. Even so, I’m happy to pay $20 to see the most influential man of the second half of the 20th century with my own eyes.
Is Gorbachev really “the most influential man of 1950-2000”? I’m not sure, but I suspect so. If Gorbachev had played his cards right, he’d still be the dictator of the Soviet Union, and the world would be in far worse shape. Instead, he tried reformed, fumbled, and brought the Evil Empire to the ground.
I know that many conservatives want to give Reagan and his defense build-up the credit. But there’s no reason the USSR couldn’t have stayed the course: With strict internal security and nuclear weapons, Communism could have lasted forever. Imagine how Stalin would have reacted to Reaganism – instead of backing down, he would have staged show trials of “Reaganites.”
This doesn’t mean, of course, that I admire Gorbachev. He was the least evil man who ever got to the top of the USSR, but that’s not saying much. With the benefit of hindsight, I have to think that he wishes he’d been like Deng – lots of perestroika, very little glasnost. In the end, though, Gorbachev was a maximally useful idiot for the freedom and peace of the world.
But maybe I’m wrong. Who else is in the running for the most influential man of the half-century? Deng’s a strong contender, but he’s a better candidate for the most influential man of 2000-2050. Despite decades of high growth, China’s economy was so small when Deng assumed power that it didn’t become a true world power until after his death.
Care to disagree? Any other contenders?