Steve Jobs, innovator. 1955-2011.
What started in Zucotti Park is spreading across America. The playing field of the American economy has gotten so slanted toward the wealthiest among us, the rules so biased in their favor, that with no organizational assistance from a national propaganda network and no funding from shadowy billionaires and their front groups, self-organized demonstrators are peaceably assembling in the thousands and tens of thousands. From Wall Street in New York to Spring Street in Los Angeles, activists among the self-styled 99 percent have decided that living off the trickle-down of the plutocrats and corporate CEOs who crashed the economy, and not only came out clean on the other side, but more likely enriched themselves significantly in the process.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a major corporate CEO passed away. Earlier this year, the corporation he managed had the largest market capitalization of any company on the planet. Given the shares he held not only in this corporation but also in several others with which he was affiliated, this man was undoubtedly among the wealthiest one percent of Americans. But far from being reviled for his wealth, power, influence and status as the executive of a massive company at a time when it is highly unpopular, Steve Jobs was nearly universally admired. The sudden announcement of his death, though not entirely unexpected given his recent abdication of his role at Apple, inspired profound sadness among legions of fans and monopolized news network coverage.
The Republican politicians who serve Wall Street and have dedicated themselves to protecting the interests of America's most fortunate have declared that the Occupy Wall Street movement is the enemy, that the participants in the protests sweeping the nation are a mob of anti-capitalists who are jealous that they can't have what rich people can have and want to take by force what they cannot afford to buy—presumably, as Herman Cain might say, because they didn't work hard enough. But if that were the case, why was a figure like Steve Jobs so revered, while the CEOs and hedge fund managers of Wall Street are so reviled? If the left is so interested in punishing success, as so many Republicans claim, why are the supposed anti-capitalists not celebrating the death of the head of the second largest publicly traded company in the world?
Unlike so many of my friends, associates and fellow bloggers, I am not a fan of Apple products. I have a seldom-used iPod Classic. My iTunes library barely exceeds two gigabytes. I have never had an iPhone, nor a Macbook of any kind. An iPad might be in the cards simply owing to the "coolness factor," should I ever be blessed with a combination of an indulgent mood and a confounding excess of spare cash. In fact, my fondest memory of Apple comes from the games I played on the Apple IIe my family had when I was very young. But despite using the products of his company's chief competitors, I have always had an enormous respect for Steve Jobs.
By all accounts, Jobs was not motivated primarily by financial success. He was motivated, rather, by a desire to do something unique, something completely different, to change the way people lived and interacted with each other through technology. To be innovative, to constantly push the cutting edge. Clearly, he succeeded. And along the way—from inventing the personal computer to launching the iPad 2—he created not just a successful product line, but a series of devices that changed the way millions and millions of people work, live and play. And whether in respecting his life or mourning his death, very few will resent Steve Jobs the billions he earned for the value he provided to so many.
The main ire of the occupiers of Wall Street is not directed simply toward people who are wealthy. Rather, it is directed at the financial sector: a series of institutions whose ostensible purpose is to provide the liquidity that greases the wheels of the American economic engine. But instead of fulfilling their mission to help their customers make money, the financial sector has decided to engage in corrupt, fraudulent and abusive practices to extract an ever-increasing profit from the credit they provide, and use those ill-gotten gains to garner legislation and tax rates that favor their agenda and methodology. Not only is the financial sector not providing quality products for the profit they extract; there are doing the exact opposite. They turn people out of their homes illegally through forged documentation like Bank of America, or shortsell the same low-quality investments they sold to their clients to make a shameful profit at both ends of the deal.
That wasn't Steve Jobs' agenda, nor is it the agenda of any other innovator whose desire is to create value that improves people's lives. The legions in New York and across the country do not protest wealth; they do not hate success. Rather, they object to those who extract value through predation rather than contribute value through innovation and creativity.