American Consequences - August 2017


On and on it went: Jobs, said the liberal magazine Washington Monthly , was a “great inventor, great businessman, great innovator, great American.” The news website ThinkProgress wondered: “What with Republicans slashing funding for clean energy, who else will be the engine of innovation, efficiency, and dematerialization?” As we’ll see in a moment, this was an odd compliment to steer toward Steve Jobs. "Here's to the crazy ones. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The ones who see things differently." There is no more succinct description of what business journalists see when they look in the mirror. But not as odd as this statement from a business columnist in the Chicago Tribune , who compared Jobs’ futuristic vision with Republicans who “think small” when it comes to financing the welfare state. “If one can’t help neighbors in need,” the columnist asked, “it doesn’t speak well of figuring out the future.” Anyone who followed Jobs’ career will understand what makes these comparisons so inapt. First, Apple’s environmental track record under Jobs, including its interest in “clean energy,” was dismal. In the second instance, Jobs’ passion for “helping neighbors in need” seemed to be non-existent. There’s no record, for example, that he ever gave a sou to charity. That’s OK, explained a business writer in the Times . Jobs had a “single-minded focus on

The shift first hit me smack in the face with the retirement of Steve Jobs a couple years ago, followed shortly thereafter by his death. Jobs, of course, was a model of the rapacious capitalist, hipster division. Viewed objectively, forgetting the sneakers and the black mock turtleneck, he seemed to do business like a fevered socialist caricature. He encouraged in his consumers all the things that liberals claim to despise. Jobs specialized in the tactics that appalled Herbert Marcuse, the premier theorist of the New Left and a commie’s commie, in the 1960s: manufactured wants, the “marketing of desire,” the “fetishizing” of commodities, “planned obsolescence,” the exploitation of cheap foreign labor, indifference to the natural world, and more. Rapacious capitalism made Jobs very rich and very famous, yet the encomiums and then the eulogies shimmered with admiration and affection from people who are otherwise sworn enemies of rapacious capitalism. In the New York Times , the business writer Joe Nocera called Apple’s co-founder the “single most indispensable chief executive on the planet.” (Nocera had to make clear that he wasn’t talking about chief executives off the planet.) The left-wing economics writer for the Washington Post – a Pulitzer Prize winner, wouldn’t you know – praised Jobs’ “brilliance and strength of character,” which turned his company into “a symbol of what American workers and American business and the American economy can achieve.” It sounds a bit like Ted Cruz giving an award to a right-to-work activist, doesn’t it?

30 | August 2017

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