I read with interest this snippet about Jesse Jackson Jr. on what Steve Jobs would have thought of the Wall Street protests:
Jackson began an interview on MSNBC’s “Jansing & Co.” yesterday by offering condolences to the Jobs family, saying he “knew Steve over a period of time, not as a technical computer genius, but also he had an acute sense of social justice and a peace warrior. So he was a well-rounded guy, not just a computer genius we talk about today.”
When host Chris Jansing asked if Jobs would have supported the Wall Street protesters, Jackson said “no doubt about it” and then used his airtime to promote the movement.
This is from a man who wouldn’t know an iPod from a brown Zune, let alone know a thing about the mind of Steve Jobs.
As a longtime fan of Apple products and an accused member of “The Cult of Apple”, I can speak volumes about Jobs and his history within the computer industry. And one thing that always impressed me about the man is that he largely managed to keep his politics out of his business. Oh sure, you can infer that he leaned left due to who he associated with, but he never came out and gave speeches endorsing this candidate or that movement. Aside from his Stanford commencement address and his singular public statement encouraging organ donation after his liver transplant, to my knowledge the man never publicly spoke of anything but Apple and technology.
When it comes right down to it, Steve Jobs was an unrepentant capitalist. He offshored production of Apple’s products to (primarily) China. He kept Apple’s profit margins high — around 26% — when everyone else in the computer industry is scraping by at 6-8% margins. In a particularly exemplary incident shortly before Apple went public, co-founder Steve Wozniak wanted the two of them to give some of their own shares of the company to long-time Apple employees who had none, with Woz telling Jobs that he would match however many shares Jobs gave; Jobs said, “Great, I’ll give them zero.” (Good-hearted Woz wound up giving away shares anyway, calling it “the Woz plan”, which allowed many employees to buy a house and send their kids to college.) Upon returning to the company’s helm in 1997, Jobs cut Apple’s corporate match of charitable donations. Apple shareholders have never seen dividends, regardless how much Apple has made in profits. (And with a market cap close to — and sometimes exceeding — oil giant Exxon Mobil, they’ve made a lot.) Their iTunes Music Store borders on a monopoly of the digital music download business, and their line of iPods command the lion’s share of MP3 players. Their App Store for the iPhone and Mac take a whopping 30% of the sale of every product. In a private meeting shortly before his death, he told Obama that unions and manufacturing regulations in the US were the reason he offshored product production, and that teachers’ unions needed to be done away with and replaced with a system where teachers are hired, fired, and promoted based on merit rather than collective bargaining. He even had a private jet and was having a custom yacht built. The only thing missing from the “greedy, cigar-smoking capitalist” stereotype was the cigar.
Well, the cigar and the fat paycheck. Steve Jobs, upon returning to Apple when the stock was worth about $12 a share, took a salary of $1. Oh sure, he got stock options that made him filthy rich, but let’s face it: those options would only be worth anything if the company did well. And there is the thing that liberals and the Occupy Wall Street crowd doesn’t understand: to a capitalist, the money is less important than the success. Money isn’t the end, it’s a means to the end. Success, defined as realization of a dream, is the end. Money is a by-product of success, and is used by the consummate capitalist to fund more successes. How many successful capitalists can be defined as “serial entrepreneurs”, taking their money from one business and using it to fund another? How many successful capitalists started their business because they were working for some one else and said, “I can see a better way,” then they set out and built the better way, creating jobs in the process? How many successful capitalists started with a small handful of borrowed cash and a dream, taking operations from their home, dorm room, or parents’ garage and turned that dream into a global brand? I’ll help the Occupy Wall Street crowd and answer the rhetorical: Most if not all.
In building Apple into the company we know today, how many people prospered because of Jobs’ drive for the realization of his dreams? And we’re not just talking about the thousands of new jobs at Apple itself, people who have email addresses ending in “@apple.com” because of Jobs’ successes. From accessory manufacturers to heretofore unknown musicians, from online retailers to laborers in China, Jobs’ addiction to success made many other people around the world wildly successful beyond their dreams.
Yes, capitalists are addicts… Addicts to success. And for everyone to prosper, for everyone to have “a chicken in every pot and a car in every driveway”, we need capitalists like Steve Jobs to continue to be successful rather than excoriate them for following their dream.