Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steve Jobs and the American Way of Capitalism

Eulogies for Steve Jobs have been coming hard and heavy since his expected but untimely death recently. He is recognized by everyone as a great innovator. To his fans, rather his devotees, he’s a genius, almost a demigod.

The last time I used an Apple product, it was an Apple II, back in the 80s. At a certain point the place I went to to use a computer had Macs, but for some reason I resisted moving to the much better system, maybe I’m just stubborn and slow to change. Over the years I’ve frequently had Mac lovers recommend the Apple system over the PC.

No matter how much better the system might be, adopting it was always problematical for me. In the beginning were the issues of compatibility, access to software and ease of repair, which were especially important as I was in traveling mode starting in 1992. In America, those issues would’ve been minor, in Asia a real bother.

The other, even more decisive reason for shunning Macs is that they’re so damned expensive, double or triple the cost of an equivalent PC. Jobs’ economic philosophy involved doing products so likable that people would be willing to pay a premium for them. It worked out well for him as he left this world with $6 billion in the bank, but it also strictly limited the number of people who could enjoy his ‘great innovations’.

Not only did he make his loyal and dedicated customers pay a heavy price for his products he also subjected them to indignities and rip-offs, such as not allowing purchasers of itunes songs to copy them to use on their other computers, or not making iphone batteries replaceable except by a very expensive process at an Apple store. That’s the gratitude he showed them after they showered him with adoration and fabulous wealth.

So he left with $6 billion in assets. If he had departed with ‘only’ half as much - but still far more than any one person could ever possibly need or legitimately use in one lifetime - because he priced his products more competitively and didn’t seek to soak his customers at every opportunity, a lot more people could’ve enjoyed his products and I’d feel more kindly towards him. He actually might have made even more than six billion if he’d kept a smaller margin, but sold a lot more.

In fact I would’ve loved to have an alternative to Microsoft, since I detest Bill Gates with an unrelenting passion, but Jobs made it impossible for me.

He exemplified the capitalist way, which is to think of innovation and quality only in terms of profit and whatever good might be accomplished by your work as peripheral. He might’ve been a good guy but he was also a greedy bastard.

He had it all but still died young. He had it all in this life but it’s hard to say if his great good fortune will extend to the next as it takes more than fat bank accounts in this life to get through the Pearly Gates to the next.

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