Was I really too harsh on Steve Jobs?

After Steve Jobs’s death a few weeks ago, I noted that the encomia for his life’s work seemed strange to me because he was a celebrity CEO who outsourced jobs to China, which doesn’t strike me as a particularly patriotic or environmentally responsible business plan.  Some of you objected.  Well, friends, I’ll let you be the judge as to whether this was unnecessarily harsh.  The Huffinton Post (via RealClearPolitics) offers some choice tidbits from Walter Isaacson’s not-yet-released biography, which was written with Jobs’s cooperation.  Here’s the HuffPo’s reportage on what’s to be found in Isaacson’s tome:

Jobs, who was known for his prickly, stubborn personality, almost missed meeting President Obama in the fall of 2010 because he insisted that the president personally ask him for a meeting. Though his wife told him that Obama “was really psyched to meet with you,” Jobs insisted on the personal invitation, and the standoff lasted for five days. When he finally relented and they met at the Westin San Francisco Airport, Jobs was characteristically blunt. He seemed to have transformed from a liberal into a conservative.

“You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” he told Obama at the start of their meeting, insisting that the administration needed to be more business-friendly. As an example, Jobs described the ease with which companies can build factories in China compared to the United States, where “regulations and unnecessary costs” make it difficult for them.

Jobs also criticized America’s education system, saying it was “crippled by union work rules,” noted Isaacson. “Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform.” Jobs proposed allowing principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit, that schools stay open until 6 p.m. and that they be open 11 months a year.

How do you like them apples?  That’s Steve Jobs’s great respect for American workers and professionals:  deregulate until this place runs like China, “break” teachers’ unions, and keep those schmucks on the job until 6 p.m. every night year-round.  (I guess he must have felt really poorly served by his elementary school teachers.  How much richer and more successful might he have become if they had stayed at school until after 6 p.m.?) 

Go click on the story and read the whole thing–I didn’t even quote all of the pi$$ing contest-y stuff between Jobs and Obama, if you can believe it!

19 thoughts on “Was I really too harsh on Steve Jobs?

  1. A person’s achievements are orthogonal to the person’s political views, the person’s personality and whether the person likes bananas.

    Ezra Pound is a great poet who was a Nazi.


  2. koshembos: I disagree in this case. Jobs was a successful celebrity CEO in part I’m sure *because* he cut Apple’s costs & shipped jobs over to China. Now, many people think that’s just fine or even a positive good because it boosted Apple’s stock price and they approve of the ways that corporations are rewarded for sticking it to American workers.

    I’m just not one of those kinds of people.


  3. Colour me unsurprised. I’ve read a lot of verbiage where people excuse his bad behaviour to coworkers and employees with “well, but he was a genius.” I consider it a part and parcel of his attitude toward the rest of humanity which I don’t see as being generous or inspiring.


  4. “he cut Apple’s costs & shipped jobs over to China”

    I reply with an 1845 petition from Bastiat. http://bastiat.org/en/petition.html

    And a wikipedia article on comparative advantage.

    The main problem with “shipping jobs over to China” is that it is expensive to retrain workers and it displaces specific people. That’s why the US has funds specifically to help retrain workers whose jobs have been outsourced. But the US consumer is also important. Free trade means more goods and services at lower prices for the US people.

    (There’s also a mismatch in the US between workers who have lost their jobs in dying industries (heavy scale manufacturing) and the positions that are used to make Apple products in China. And there’s some thought that maybe Chinese workers are people too and free trade can help force change and middle-classization in China as well. As China booms, they start valuing things like workers rights, pollution abatement etc. too… and they also have started out-sourcing their low-skill work to Africa. They also start being able to buy US products, and there’s demand for what the US produces with its comparative advantage, and more jobs in those industries.)


  5. Steve Jobs, harm-causing tycoon, ought to be a no-brainer for liberals and progressives.

    Also too: if Jobs had been female, the media would have depicted her as Cruella de Vil. “Prickly, stubborn personality” = b*tch. That horrifying Chinese factory she ran–unforgiveable! Oh, and overrated. Everyone would be pointing out that female Steve didn’t actually design anything, write code for the current line, etc.


  6. “But the US consumer is also important. Free trade means more goods and services at lower prices for the US people.”

    I agree that the U.S. consumer is very important. I fully support her right to a job with a living wage, to representation by a union, and to be confident that the food and products she purchases are (for example) lead- and melamine-free. U.S. corporations have bought us off with cheaply-produced and frequently dangerous and/or dubious shiny objects for sale at Walmart and Target. But this is far from a sustainable business model, to say nothing of environmental sustainability.

    We will have to disagree on free traderism, which as far as I can tell means just a race to the bottom in terms of worker’s rights, worker safety, and the health of the environment. As far as the skills imbalance between heavy- and light mfg.: why doesn’t the U.S. pay to have unionized workers retrained in that? Job retraining only works if there are jobs at the other end of the line.

    LadyProf: I agree about your analysis of Cruella de Ville. Imagine if she had refused to meet with Obama unless he called her & personally asked for a meeting!


  7. Just an off-topic point of clarification: Ezra Pound was an anti-Semite, supported fascism in Italy, and expressed support for Hitler. He was not, however, a member of the Nazi party, and it’s worth noting that in spite of his reputation as a poet, literary criticism has not let him off the hook for his political views, and his achievements have not provided him with an alibi for his fascist sympathies.


  8. Excellent thread. Bastiat petition is lots of fun.

    But: Dr. Crazy’s right on Pound, Ladyprof is right on Cruella de Vil, Janice is right about spurious excuses which are made, and Historiann is right about free traderism. IMO, of course, but I think the facts back me.


    I think we could also cut health care costs if we stopped overeating cheap food from Target. I would like to know how this could be accomplished.

    Because that person quit with no notice I am teaching 2 extra classes this term and the 2 extra are Spanish language classes. In these classes, one discusses basic Stuff like what food do you like, for purposes of practicing names of foods, how to say “like,” and so on. What I learned: most students have never eaten anything fresh. Why: cost.


  9. This little tidbit jumped out at me as revealing and hilarious:

    Bill Gates was fascinated by Steve Jobs but found him “fundamentally odd” and “weirdly flawed as a human being,” and his tendency to be “either in the mode of saying you were shit or trying to seduce you.”

    Jobs once declared about Gates, “He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.”


  10. This sounds like Andrew Carnegie wouldn’t meet President Cleveland because Cleveland wanted him to come down to the train platform while his train was re-coaling at the Pittsburgh depot while the man of steel (r) preferred that the other president climb the stairs to the main waiting room.

    Jobs certainly got the *word* out in academia. A couple of my colleagues damn nearly had a cow yesterday to learn that they couldn’t get the same low, low rate university subsidy for Macbooks that the U. was offering the rest of us for what they characerized as us “slaves to Windows.” Like it was a human rights issue, rather than just another garden variety narrative about the suits and the vendors.


  11. p.s. Harry Truman would have issued an executive order nationalizing the offices of the Chair/CEO at Apple, and directed Employee No. 001 to report to the Airport Westin at 14:20 hours on the day in question, and to hell with Youngstown Sheet and Tube v. Sawyer!


  12. Off-topic and pedantic. Ezra pound couldn’t have joined the nazi party as it didn’t exist in the UK until 1937-38. Pound did submit articles to the British Union of Fascists’ journals on several occasions, but did not join the BUF.


  13. Jobs was a genius. At marketing. And he had very good taste. (Now, why does that remind of the line from an old Rolling Stones song, “I’m a man of wealth and taste”?) He didn’t invent anything. And, as a Linux user, believe me, the claims that Apple — which did stuff like try to stop you from transferring files between your own electronics without going through some iStore — the claims that Apple was some kind of progressive revolutionary force always had me rolling around in gales of laughter.

    Less funny is the line about commissioning a biography so his kids would know what he did. What? He couldn’t talk to them?


  14. Thought I’d put in my two cents, since I remember being the one who criticized your less-than-delicate treatment of the dead the last time there was a disagreement about this (with John Updike). This time? I have to say I find your critics’ response baffling. It is not spitting on the dead to suggest that their deification is premature. For what it’s worth, I thought your original post was, in fact, right on the money.


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