"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs - The Businessman as Hero

It's somewhat ironic that the man who best symbolizes what we ought to be doing to create jobs in this country was named Jobs.   Steve Jobs, the brilliant entrepreneur who brought us Apple and a host of products that have transformed the world, died this week at age 56.   He will be sorely missed, not least because he symbolized something we ought to celebrate in this country more -- the Businessman as Hero.   Here is Kevin Williamson from NRO making the essential point:

I don’t know what Steve Jobs’s politics were, I don’t much care, and in any case they are beside the point. The late Mr. Jobs stood for something considerably better than politics. He stood for the model of the world that worksOnce you figure out why your cell phone gets better and cheaper every year but your public schools get more expensive and less effective, you can apply that model to answer a great many questions about public policy.

Jobs was sometimes criticized for not being a philanthropist along the lines of Bill Gates.  Mr. Jobs’s contribution to the world is Apple and its products, along with Pixar and his other enterprises, his 338 patented inventions — his work — not some Steve Jobs Memorial Foundation for Giving Stuff to Poor People in Exotic Lands and Making Me Feel Good About Myself. Because he already did that: He gave them better computers, better telephones, better music players, etc. In a lot of cases, he gave them better jobs, too. Did he do it because he was a nice guy, or because he was greedy, or because he was a maniacally single-minded competitor who got up every morning possessed by an unspeakable rage to strangle his rivals? The beauty of capitalism — the beauty of the iPhone world as opposed to the world of politics — is that that question does not matter one little bit. Whatever drove Jobs, it drove him to create superior products, better stuff at better prices. Profits are not deductions from the sum of the public good, but the real measure of the social value a firm creates. Those who talk about the horror of putting profits over people make no sense at all. The phrase is without intellectual content. Perhaps you do not think that Apple, or Goldman Sachs, or a professional sports enterprise, or an Internet pornographer actually creates much social value; but markets are very democratic — everybody gets to decide for himself what he values.

I've often meditated on the muddled thinking that characterizes much of our public discourse about what work is valuable.   When young people are in high school or college they are encouraged to do "service" projects, which invariably means volunteering to do something that seems good in a liberal sort of way, like serving food at a soup kitchen, or teaching poor children how to read.   They are rarely lauded for working at paying jobs, although, if they are being paid for doing something, that work is obviously by definition valuable to their employer.   Similarly, we have heard from Michelle Obama how young people should be encouraged to reject the world of paying jobs in the private sector to do public service.   But isn't doing work for someone who wants to hire you and pay you for doing a job doing something of value for society?

Jobs exemplified the notion that starting a business, providing a service or a product that customers want, fulfilling needs or desires of consumers, is a good thing to do, and makes people's lives better.   Making money in this view is not evil, rather it's a measure of how much value you are providing to society.   The idiocy of the current administration, and why businessmen appear to be standing on the sidelines waiting for the next one, is that Obama and his ilk appear to be telling businessmen that what they are doing in providing goods and services to paying customers is somehow a bad thing, an evil thing that they must be punished for.   It's an insane attitude that can only come from people with ideological blinders on -- they could simply open their eyes and look around themselves at the computers and cell phones and iPods and iPads and laptops and flat screens and cars and planes and abundant food and affordable clothing and all the other things that businessmen have given us, and reach the inevitable conclusion that we owe men like Jobs a debt of gratitude... they don't owe us anything, much less higher taxes.  

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