The Second Coming: How Steve Jobs’ Death Might Save Occupy, The United States, and The World
Steve Jobs’ untimely passing a couple of weeks ago has struck people in a variety of ways. Whenever I walk by the large glass storefront of the Philadelphia Apple Store, I am moved by the dozens of multicolored sticky notes on the surface of the otherwise pristine glass. It’s almost as if the mementos and personal outpourings of appreciation for Jobs’ life and work obfuscates and overshadows the company he built. And that’s a great thing for our country and our world, because all too often corporations overshadow the creative geniuses who build them.
An image was floating around a week ago pointing out all the Canon cameras, American Eagle tees, Proctor and Gamble cardboard boxes, and iPhones being held up in a photo of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York. The point of the image, of course, is to highlight the irony of demanding an end to corporate profits while simultaneously benefiting from the spoils of corporate innovation and competition. But I don’t think that the Occupy protestors really are opposed to innovation, competition, and the profits that go with those things. An article in The Economist today titled “Occupy Wall Street: Le trahison des CPAs” seems to corroborate this suspicion. One of the protestors the author interviewed is a semi-retired CPA from Queens, and stated something I find very interesting – “I think Steve Jobs deserved everything he had.” Yet the CPA is advocating for a cap on CEO salaries for all publicly traded companies, and Apple is publicly traded. The apparent inconsistency probably derives from the fact that Steve Jobs is very well-regarded by consumers, largely due to the fact that he was a self-made man from the middle class who tried, failed, and tried again – the second attempt succeeding brilliantly. No consumer wants to vilify a man who has truly changed the world for the better with the sharpness of his mind and a cunning for business; in short, the average American consumer and Occupy protestor believes in the American Dream.
The Occupy protestors are committing a common, but easily rectified, mistake. They confuse corporatism for capitalism, and blame corporations for the corruption they see in government. The protestors don’t want to blame a well-known and highly regarded innovative genius like Steve Jobs, but they won’t hesitate to throw his publicly traded company (and its new CEO) under the bus. I don’t believe that the protestors would be making this mistake, however, if more CEOs behaved like Steve Jobs did.
Steve Jobs and Apple rarely donated a penny to anyone. They lobbied the government far less than most other tech companies. And most of all, Jobs and Apple were concerned primarily with the quality of their products and the experience of their customers. People are perfectly willing to give credit where it’s due, and the Steve Jobs consumer electronics empire definitely deserves major credit. Jobs and his company single-handedly changed the way we all live our daily lives. I’m sitting here now writing this article on my iPad, after reading the aforementioned Economist article on the same via an app called Flipboard. The iPad has completely changed and streamlined the way I consume and produce media, and I’d like to think that makes the world a marginally better place. And I don’t mind letting Jobs and Apple keep every penny they earned for that contribution to society.
What Occupy Protestors need to be protesting against aren’t CEO profits, but rather unearned rent-seeking by worthless corporations. Fannie and Freddie, Goldman Sachs, AIG, and the multitude of other bailout corporations deserve none of what they’ve gotten. While millions of Americans were forced out of their homes in 2008 and 2009, these corporate parasites received trillions from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. Congress has sold us out, and we have nothing to show for it. In contrast, the voluntary purchase of millions of iPads, iPhones, and Mac computers has appreciably changed the world for the better. So maybe something good can come of Steve Jobs’ death if the Occupy protestors begin recognizing the value of good executives like him. If they want to be taken seriously, this should be their singular demand: “End the bailouts. Demand innovation. Profit.”