A Twice-Told Tale

R.W. Johnson: not a writer to be trusted.


Here’s a story that appeared in the Business Review Weekly in 1994:


After overthrowing the Batista regime in 1958, Castro had to set up a new administration in haste. The story goes that at a meeting of the revolutionary leaders, Castro asked: “Is anyone here an economist?” Che Guevara, the Argentinian firebrand, put up his hand and instantly became president of the national bank and Minister for Industry. This surprised all present. Che had been a medical student. Moreover, as Clive James was later to write, it was accepted that he couldn’t organise anything more complicated than a small ambush. Che later confessed: “I thought Fidel said: is anyone here a communist?”


Here’s a very similar story that ran in the Wall Street Journal on November 19, 2010:


Trevor Manuel, the South African finance minister from 1996 to 2009, got his job when the aging Nelson Mandela asked, at a cabinet meeting, who was a good economist. Mr. Manuel raised his hand thinking Mr. Mandela had asked who was “a good communist.” Mr. Manuel served his country ably. But the appointment of the sole competent minister in the first government of African National Congress was a matter of blind luck.


The first story is almost certainly apocryphal, the second is even more dubious. It’s clearly modelled on the first story, with such fidelity that one can most charitably describe it as unconscious plagiarism.  

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