American Consequences - August 2017

work over philanthropy” because he believed “he could do more good focusing his energy on continuing to expand Apple.” This is a perfectly sensible argument. It’s the same argument Milton Friedman made against corporate philanthropy. The first obligation of CEOs is to their company’s shareholders, Friedman said, and if they think it necessary to demonstrate their towering compassion and elevated social conscience through charitable activity, they should do it on their own dime. The argument was usually cited as evidence of Friedman’s heartlessness and indifference to human suffering. It’s strange to see a Friedmanian case made in the New York Times . Then again, Friedman didn’t invent the iPhones and the Macs that are the modern journalist’s constant playmates. Steve Jobs did, and he sold them to the public using a classic mix of flattery and status anxiety. Remember the famous ad copy that Jobs wrote himself? “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. This is how progressives in general see themselves. Standing up to the Man. Speaking truth to power. Daring to be different, as long as all your colleagues are being different in the same way. The herd of independent minds. Jobs was one of a kind, of course, but his exemption from the left’s usual contempt for businesspeople has been stretched to include nearly all the tech-industry leaders.

Consider Tim Cook. Apple’s environmental record and reliance on cheap foreign workers are no better under Cook than they were under Jobs, yet Cook continues to ride Jobs’ coattails... getting a free ride from the people who you would expect to be appalled at Apple’s corporate behavior. So does Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, whose bestseller Lean In is the baldest expression of the “Let ‘em eat cake” philosophy since Marie Antoinette lost her head. As does Eric Schmidt, former chairman of Google, when his company parks billions of dollars in Bermuda and manages to reduce its tax rate in Britain to roughly 2% – and when he plays patty-cake with the plutocrats and authoritarians of China. Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Facebook would build a new corporate headquarters, a town-within-a-town in Menlo Park, California. Facebookville will feature amenities to satisfy every human whim – shops, housing, theaters, restaurants, and public transportation – so his employees would never have to leave the grounds. There is an obvious precedent for Zuckerberg’s plan. Many industrialists of the 19th century established company towns as a way of keeping a close eye on workers and their families. Company towns have been a great bugaboo of progressive historians, including Zinn, who saw them as the crudest sort of life-denying exploitation. But scarcely a peep of objection has been heard against Zuckerberg’s creepy idea.

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