Steve Jobs

Eric Alterman:

Daisey is right when he insists that Steve Jobs was the one man in the world uniquely positioned to change this. Apple’s profit margins are immense. The stock could have continued to soar even if the pay and conditions of these workers’ lives were built into the cost of an iPhone or an iPad. People would have kept buying the products, and other companies would have been forced to follow suit. But Jobs didn’t care. He even instructed Obama that the United States had to behave more like China in the manner in which it encouraged corporations to act free of regulations or concern for their employees and their environment.

A second issue raised by Jobs’s life and death is all that money he accumulated. When New York Times “DealBook” editor Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote a column before Jobs died, wondering why he seemed so stingy with his fortune—noting also that he did away with all the company’s charity programs (which were restored after his departure in August)—Sorkin addressed the topic so gingerly, I half thought he feared Jobs would send a thunderbolt from the sky to disable his typing fingers (or possibly curl his arm into a claw). “None of this is meant to judge Mr. Jobs. I have long been a huge admirer of Mr. Jobs and consider him the da Vinci of our time,” blah, blah, blah. Even so, right-wing bloggers and pundits evinced outrage that Sorkin even raised the issue. But come now: $8.3 billion? And add to this that Apple is apparently sitting on an estimated $76 billion in cash and other investments allegedly residing in a company called Braeburn Capital in Reno, Nevada—a corporation, according to BusinessWeek, that Apple created for “the purpose of managing its cash and short-term investments in a tax-advantageous manner” in a state that has no corporate or capital-gains taxes. (Why, after all, should Apple’s millionaires and billionaires contribute to the local and statewide public services in Cupertino, California, that make those fortunes possible?)

How ironic that the media love to celebrate this alleged icon of ’60s idealism at the expense of poor, square Bill Gates, who is devoting the better part of his fortune to improving the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people. (“Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology,” Jobs told Isaacson. In the past, he had suggested that Gates “would be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.”)

True, I am deeply devoted to the 27,000 songs I can take anywhere on my iPod Classic as well as the exquisitely engineered MacBook Air on which I typed this column. But as a parent and a citizen, I’ll take a Bill Gates (or Warren Buffett) over Steve Jobs every time. If we must have billionaires, better they should ignore Jobs’s example and instead embrace the morality and wisdom of the great industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie: “The man who dies…rich dies disgraced.

6 thoughts on “Steve Jobs

  1. The 1% pits the economic theories of capitalists Friedrich Hayek (free markets, no regulation) and John Maynard Keynes (manipilation of monetary policy, regulation). Roosevelt championed Keynesiam economic theory. Reagan adopted Hayek’s economic theories. (Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are all devotees of Hayek.) Most economists had rejected Hayek’s theories until Margaret Thatcher talked Reagan into trying them. If you look at the economic conditions around the world today it’s quite obvious that Hayek’s economic theories don’t work. And the theories of Kaynes don’t work all that well either. It’s capitalism itself which has failed and requires replacement.

  2. Well said, and right on time. When Jobs died, I thought “Don’t speak ill of the dead,” even after seeing all those tributes from the sort of people who don’t like to ponder what a good life is and what it isn’t. But really — let’s take off the black armbands and, for the sake of accuracy, acknowledge the guy for what he was — a master of technology, a brilliant innovator, an astute businessman, and a cold, stingy creep.

  3. I read isaacson’s book and I cone away with a very different take on Jobs. First, he was a bastard to work for. But he was also aware of his assholery. Sometimes, he got it to work in in very laudable ways. What he did for Pixar was nothing short of amazing. And part of that has to do with him accepting nothing less than the best and knowing when to cede the reins to people who could produce it.
    Secondly, for a billionaire, he was a very modest man. His family lived in unostentatious houses. He commissioned a yacht before he died but it wasn’t going to be an ocean liner. He didn’t have a security staff. He had very little live in help. His kids didn’t even realize they were rich when they were growing up.
    Third, in many respects Jobs has the same attitude about education as I do. I don’t want to eliminate the teachers unions but I would prefer it if they made a transition from a purely labor union to a professional union and put more emphasis on qualifications and expertise. Similarly, I don’t think it’s such a good idea for everyone to go to college. There should be decent jobs for people who are trained in vocational arts and how to run factories. We have a gap in this country in that regard but a country like Germany has these kinds of diplomas and maybe we should follow their example. Judging from Jobs’ life in entirety, I’d be surprised if he was hoping we’d end up like china. I think he was thinking of Germany.
    Lastly, Jobs was a self-actualized man for the most part. Sure, he had his demons and he was human. But when it comes to charity, there are a few things we have to consider. First, he was in the zone for the last decade. Honestly? I don’t think he had time to think about ehat the best use of his philanthropy might be. Knowing Jobs, that woukd have been a philosophical and intellectual endeavor that he might never have been satisfied with. Secondly, many very wealthy people set up charitable foundations as a tax deduction. They have to get rid of some if that wealth or they’ll get taxed on it. So, they set up their foundations to reward activities and behaviors that they approve of. One could argue that since Jobs didn’t do this, his taxable income went to government to serve the common good, even if it might personally drive him crazy that he couldn’t control it. That, on my opinion, was a good thing.
    Are we now to argue like the right wingers that our social safety net should rely on private charity? Because the history of the world is full of that and it didn’t work out too well. It’s only when the public agrees to pool its resources formally in government or through social organizations that a safety net comes into being. Otherwise, it’s just you, the individual, petitioning a wealthy person for charity and that almost always comes with strings related to the vision of that wealthy person.
    But I don’t really know what happened to Jobs’ wealth. He became the kind of guy who realized there were only so many things in the world you could buy and you don’t need everything. As billionaires go, he wasn’t do bad. You just wouldn’t want to work for him personally.

  4. Damn, typing on an iPhone is painful. Anyways, here’s a related story that may settle the question of what Jobs’ intention was:

    It’s about Laurene Jobs tax liability on the shares of Disney and Apple stock she has inherited. Her tax liability could be substantial. If a bank was made a trustee of the estate, it will make the decision for her. Otherwise, she may decide to take the hit. Even with a substantial tax penalty, the heirs will be fabulously rich and they don’t live lives of the rich and famous. So, I’d keep an eye on this.

  5. Riverdaughter, I know from your blog that you like your Apple stuff. That’s great. That’s also different from Jobs being an actual human being. He parked his damn car in handicapped parking spaces just to show that he could. And, no, he didn’t give a tiny poot about conditions at Foxconn or anywhere else. He was brilliant at marketing, and he did, as you say, “[accept] nothing less than the best and [know] when to cede the reins to people who could produce it.” That’s it and that’s all. Susie’s hit the bullseye on this one.

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