Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Jobs idolatry is out of hand and this piece suggests why. (H/t instapundit) Here is what bothers me. The notion that you need somebody like Jobs to convince you that economic freedom and technology are good things, is pretty lame. Jobs made himself and a lot of other people rich, but he is hardly a model of anything to be admired, as far as his personal qualities go. It is just foolish and misinformed to lionize ruthlessness and dishonesty as somehow prime capitalist virtues. For one thing, it's not true.
Sure, there are creeps and liars who prosper in business, but most successful businesspeople will tell you nothing is more valuable in business than a reputation for honesty and for keeping one's word. It's impossible to enforce all deals through litigation or other third party means. If you get a reputation for breaking your deals, people won't deal with you. A reputation for keeping your word is of enormous importance in business. It's how many markets including trillion dollar trading markets work. A congenital liar like Jobs -- what can you say; it seems universally acknowledged that the truth was just not in the guy -- prospered because he had other huge talents. But most liars fail because nobody will trust them.
Similar story for being a personal flake. Some study I read years ago suggested successful CEOs tend to be far more successful in marriage than average. They are not mostly men and some women who throw spouses and children under the bus to achieve success. That may be Hollywood's view and may even be how the movie biz works, but for business generally, not so. CEOs tend to be devoted husbands and fathers, men who keep their promises, and women too. For every trophy wife collector you read about in the gossip pages there are many more who will celebrate golden anniversaries. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it. People who can be trusted with other people's money can generally be trusted with one's affections as well. I thought Ross Perot was right when he dismissed some annoying journalist's suggestion that his rules at EDS regarding marital fidelity were overly puritanical: Perot said "if his wife can't trust him, why should I?" A fair question.
That Jobs stole ideas, cheated his business partners and lied habitually seems to be generally accepted and documented in the new Isaacson biography. These are bad things not only morally but also for business. In my book this doesn't make a Jobs "complex"; it makes him a scoundrel, a person not be admired. Yes, I know, iPods are cool.
The upper echelons of business are full of admirable men and women. A fair number of shits too, of course, but on average fewer than you will find in the middle, let alone the dregs. It's unfair to business leaders to tar them with the tawdry but glamorous sheen of Jobs. I think most of them have enough self respect not to be caught dead in a five hundred dollar black turtleneck. Yes, certain fabulously talented but mostly amoral and psychologically troubled sorts like Jobs can be wildly successful, but his personality traits much more often lead to tragedy and failure. This is why I seem to be on a one man campaign against his being held up as a hero or role model for anybody.
The heros of capitalism are the honest, hard working and smart men and women who do what they do because they promised they would, who come up with brilliant ideas and give due or even more than due credit to their colleagues and who contribute to their communities out of a kind of love for their homes and country. They may not sell books or movies but they are what makes a free economy work.