Economics

Whose Birthday Is on September 29? A Look at the Best (and Worst) in History

They say (whoever “they” are is anyone’s guess) that you’re getting old when your investment in health insurance is finally paying off and your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them anyway. So, I guess I have good reason to smile today, September 29, 2022—my 69th birthday.

Checking into who shares one’s birth date is a fun exercise. Let me take you on a stroll through history, stopping for a few moments to tell you of some men and women born on September 29 aside from me. Though I am proud to be a “birth date twin” with a few, especially the last one I’ll mention, I’m embarrassed by the association with some others.

Pompey the Great (106 B.C. – 48 B.C.) entered the world on September 29 and departed it, by some accounts, on the same date 58 years later. Though he is certainly famous in ancient history, he was not “great” from my perspective. He connived for power and helped bring an end to the liberties of the Roman Republic. A victim of a violent civil war he and Julius Caesar started, Pompey died by assassination in Egypt. According to Plutarch’s Life of Pompey, he once declared, “The needs of the state outweigh the needs of the individual.” No cake and ice cream for you today, Pompey.

The Spanish novelist and playwright Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) authored what is widely regarded as the first modern novel and perhaps the greatest work of Western literature, Don Quijote de la Mancha. I’m proud to share September 29 with him. He wrote something that describes my own dad perfectly:

A father may have a child who is ugly and lacking in all the graces, and the love he feels for him puts a blindfold over his eyes so that he does not see his defects but considers them signs of charm and intelligence and recounts them to his friends as if they were clever and witty.

Cervantes also penned a pithy line that ought to be enshrined as the very essence of the philosophy of liberty: “Let every man mind his own business.”

The brilliant naval tactics of Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) saved Britain from invasion by Napoleon. From his flagship HMS Victory, he engaged the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar with the famous message by signal flag, “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Though felled by a sniper from an adjacent ship, he learned he won the battle before he died. September 29 boasts the birth of Britain’s greatest-ever naval hero.

This date also claims the birth of a marvelous comedienne, Madeline Kahn (1942-1999). She is best known for her performances in Mel Brook’s films Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (love that campfire scene!). Her comedic talent is on vivid display in this collection of video clips from multiple films.

I have nothing good to say about my birth date twin Trofim Lysenko (1898-1976). He was a vicious crackpot, a pseudo-scientist whose moronic ideas fit so well with Marxist-Leninist ideology that they became official dogma in the Soviet Union. They led to the deaths of millions of people, as explained here by Morgan Dunn. From where I suspect he resides these days, Trofim won’t need a match to light the candles on his cake.

A genuine man of science born on this date was the Italian (and later naturalized American) physicist Enrico Fermi (1901-1954). He is credited with creating the world’s first nuclear reactor. Acknowledged as “the architect of the nuclear age,” he was awarded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Fermi and colleagues filed patents associated with nuclear power, all of which were taken over by the federal government, which used his technology to develop the hydrogen bomb. Fermi wasn’t a fan of it.

“The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole,” he said. “It is necessarily an evil thing considered in any light.”

Growing up, I often heard my parents, relatives and friends refer admiringly to Gene Autry (1907-1998), “the Singing Cowboy.” Years later, I discovered he too was born on September 29. Autry fashioned a famous career as a singer, songwriter, actor, musician, rodeo performer and radio crooner. But I remember him just as well for something he wrote called “The Ten Cowboy Commandments.” They remain good advice for anybody:

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

Another September 29 talent from the world of entertainment is 87-year-old Jerry Lee Lewis. He can bang a piano into smithereens and make an audience feel good about it. In 2010 he told an interviewer for Esquire magazine, “I never set fire to a piano. I’d like to have got away with it, though. I pushed a couple of them in the river. They wasn’t any good.” Who doesn’t love his 1957 recording of “Great Balls of Fire.”

A shipyard electrician who helped start an anti-communist revolution and then became President of Poland was also born on today’s date. Lech Walesa, a founder of the Solidarity movement, electrified the world when he challenged Polish authorities beginning in the late 1970s. The job of unsnarling a socialist economic mess was never expressed better than when Walesa later said, “Socialism takes an aquarium and turns it into fish soup. What we have to do now is take fish soup and turn it into an aquarium.” Poland is a free country today in part because of the courage he and his associates mustered more than four decades ago.

Finally, I proudly share this birth date with one of the greatest economists of all time, the Austrian Ludwig von Mises (1871-1973). In the 1920s, he intellectually demolished socialism by explaining that its abandonment of free prices and private property would produce a farcical pretense to economic organization. What Mises termed its “inability to calculate” would yield nothing less than “planned chaos.” And so it has, everywhere people have been duped enough to try it.

Mises’s magnum opus, Human Action, incorporates this searing indictment:

A man who chooses between drinking a glass of milk and a glass of a solution of potassium cyanide does not choose between two beverages; he chooses between life and death. A society that chooses between capitalism and socialism does not choose between two social systems; it chooses between social cooperation and the disintegration of society. Socialism is not an alternative to capitalism; it is an alternative to any system under which men can live as human beings.

A wise guy once said, “Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest.” No matter how old you are, you can make yours a little better by taking a moment to note who shares yours.

The post Whose Birthday Is on September 29? A Look at the Best (and Worst) in History was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education, and is republished here with permission. Please support their efforts.

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