Thursday, October 6, 2011

In praise of Steve Jobs

One of the things I dislike most about both the Keynesian and mainstream economic paradigms is that they simply ignore the entrepreneur. Either the entrepreneur is simply assumed into the equation, as though what he or she does is "inevitable," or, in the case of the mainstream, irrelevant.

Worse yet, the mainstream economists will throw in the phrase, "new technology," as though a new technological product just appears as though by magic. (When one lacks a coherent theory of capital, nonsense or pure fantasy will fill the void.)

I write these words with the passing of Steve Jobs, whose genius was in the fact that he could see what others could and would not see. It was not just the technology that made Apple so influential and helped produce the Digital Age, but the fact that Jobs realized that technology meant nothing if people did not want to use it.

In celebrating the life and accomplishments of Steve Jobs, it is not that he made a lot of money, or even cared about it. He was not a political force, and Apple did not have a political action fund, nor was it a force in lobbying. While Jobs was alive, Congress and the President did not go after Apple in the way it went after Microsoft and other high-tech firms. Now that he is gone, it will be interesting to see if the federal government attempts to milk political funds from that company in the way that it has done to so many other successful firms that have demonstrated their vulnerability in the face of an unwarranted government onslaught.

No, Jobs was not someone who influenced elections or tried to make bureaucrats (and ultimately taxpayers) do his bidding. His work was much too important for anything like that, and the man truly changed much of his world -- and ours.

I include a number of tributes to Jobs in this post, including this from:

The New York Times

Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal

The editors of the Wall Street Journal

Andy Kessler

Jeffrey Tucker of the Mises Institute

Had Paul Krugman written a tribute, I would have included that, but so far he has said nothing, at least in the latest update of his blog. If Krugman has something, I will put it in.


Pete said...

Jobs was incredible. He was like a modern day Henry Ford. True hero.

Robert V said...

Steve Jobs was a modern day PT Barnum, with all that implies.

ApprenticeScholar said...

One of the things that has been a revelation to me in my doctoral studies in entrepreneurship is that only the Austrian paradigm leaves any room whatsoever for the actions of the entrepreneur. Indeed, most of our theory comes back to von Mises and Hayek in one form or another.

When you think about how many product market disequilibria Steve Jobs and his company created by themselves, the shortcomings of the neoclassical (and Keynesian!) paradigms become clear, to me at least.

Tel said...

I must admit, from my own personal perspective I never much liked either Apple products, nor the way Apple operate as a company. They tend to emphasize style over and above substance, they have made efforts to lock down their platform and prevent interoperability, and they made several attempts to claim ownership of the "look and feel" of a user interface (which kind of stings when you think that Xerox invented the mouse-driven graphical interface paradigm, but PARC is long forgotten now). Very difficult for an outsider to see exactly what part Jobs played in those events.

Taking a step back, and looking beyond my own personal grudges, we do need diversity in the marketplace, and we need new ideas, and Jobs provided those things. There's a lot of Apple fans out there so Apple products must have something good about them (I dunno I've never used one). I'd like to see a lot more people getting out there and capturing the spirit of the entrepreneur.

With diversity in the marketplace, the customer has freedom to choose and you get healthy competitive striving for excellence. In the current marketplace people strive for government favours and for a monopolistic position.

William L. Anderson said...

For those who believe that Steve Jobs never really contributed anything important, read this article. While it is a humor article, David Pogue makes the point and makes it well.

You see, Jobs actually produced something, and I can guarantee you that is why the Krugmanites hate him so much. In the Keynesian paradigm, the only "productive" people are those who spend everything and try to use government to get something for nothing.

Tel said...

Strange that David Pogue never heard of the Sinclair QL, never heard of the Sun workstation (Suntools, then SunView), never heard of Commodore Amiga, never heard of Project Athena at MIT... somehow it was all Apple. I mean David Pogue pretends that the Soundblaster 16 didn't exist, that's like the canonical DOS sound card, which served for a decade or more.

The belief that the entire publishing industry would have faltered to a standstill without Apple to save them is frankly beyond the pale. Sure, Mac became adapted to a niche in the publishing industry, but that's two way adaptation, if Mac had never existed, the industry would merely have moved some other way.

Sorry but rewriting history is ugly when Krugman does it, and it's just as ugly when Apple fans do it.

I'm not doubting that Jobs contributed something to a richness in the available offerings, but he also helped kill off his own share of competitors who would have just as quickly taken his place (and that's how the market is supposed to operate).