Paul Greenberg

This era has lost its Edison. Maybe its Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller combined.

As an inventor, Steve Jobs kept coming up with Next Big Things that changed the world before rendering them obsolete by inventing their successors. He began with the personal computer and went on to churn out the iPad, iPhone, iTunes, and all the apps that changed and still change the world -- not just technologically and economically but politically and culturally -- for good, bad and in-between.

Today's Internet, with all the accesses to it that Steve Jobs provided, the Arab Spring and more springs surely to come across the world, the ways we communicate and interconnect and wi-fi ... it would all be unimaginable without that one person named Steve Jobs. If you're looking for still more justification for a system of free enterprise, he's it.

Here was a one-man proof of supply-side economics. Who knew we needed all his inventions till he invented them?

Then they became as much a part of our lives and the world's as Thomas Edison's and Henry Ford's. He both changed the species and represented its essence: Homo Faber, Man the Toolmaker, the species that invents, and in the end invents man, for our mental selves become like our technologies as Gutenberg gives way to wi-fi.

The ultimate techie, Steve Jobs was also the consummate and consuming executive, more than ready to fail so he could learn still more. He was an entrepreneur of entrepreneurs, rising only to fall, falling only to rise again. Much like Thomas Edison. And like Edison at Menlo Park, he created an assembly line and laboratory full of other inventors, including rivals and critics. He took his motto from "The Whole Earth Catalogue" of the Sixties and Seventies -- "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." He did.

Where do such world-changers come from? America, usually. Why is that? They rise here because the American system doesn't tell them what to do and not do, how to do it and how not to, but mainly gets out of their way. And lets them reap the rewards of their enterprise. So far.

A free country leaves free men alone -- to think, invent, organize, design and change. Everything, including our lives. So long as these innovators are free to invent and organize and buy and sell, the rest of us can ride the crest of the waves they create, much like a great river putting dynamos into motion.

"Capitalism," wrote one of its foremost students, Joseph Schumpeter, "is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary." Which is something those of us in the newspaper business, and every other, might keep in mind in these woe-is-us times when we would all do better to think on the opportunities opening up all around us.

Inventors didn't stop inventing or builders building even in the depths of the Great Depression, a period of as much innovation as despair. This can be, too, unless we settle for the deceptive safety of mediocrity. Thought knows no recession.

At a time when jobs grow scarce, capital is hoarded, and all kinds of economic panaceas are being promoted (The American Jobs Act! Quantitative Easing! 9-9-9! You Name It!), the real source and strength and hope of the American economy -- and society -- may be overlooked: America still lets talent rise to the top no matter how hard the levelers keep trying to stifle it.

Everybody seems to be talking about the need for more jobs but ignoring the lesson Steve Jobs' life and times and revolutionary talents teach. He was well named, Steve Jobs.

At his death at a much too young 56, Steve Jobs is being lauded by all of us, except maybe the occasional surviving Luddites, and even they are probably delivering their dissents via iPhone.

Amid the tributes, the society he so pervasively changed, and whose entrepreneurs will continue to change many another society, whether in the Arab world or on the Chinese mainland, might pause, as he did, to think. And ask: How assure that more Steve Jobses will be given their chance to change and improve the future for all of us?

By staying out of their way. How strange that, even while the air is full of eulogies for Steve Jobs, the debate in Congress, removed as ever from the economic, social and cultural realities, is how the land of the Thomas Edisons and Steve Jobses can be remodeled as a nice, safe, declining social democracy in the static European style.

We seem to have forgotten the real source of our strength: the freedom we give our most inventive and enterprising to unleash the creative destruction that is capitalism. Schumpeter called capitalism a "perennial gale of creative destruction," and only those who yearn for decline will try to fight it rather than encourage the rise of more Steve Jobses.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.