How do you become a business titan that treats employees like garbage, creates products intended to be monopolies, charges excessive prices that result in outrageous profits, practices significant tax avoidance, and yet not get pilloried (on the contrary, become deified) by the anti-business media? It’s simple; you are Steve Jobs and you are just too cool to criticize.
There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs was a major player in the development of the personal computer, transformed the animation business, and developed products in the last decade of his life that changed our culture and society. His finest quality was the ability to recognize the needs of his customers without relying on market research. He told people what they needed, and then delivered a product that they may have never thought they wanted – but to which they ultimately became addicted.
Yet, as accounted by Walter Isaacson in his recently-published biography of the late Mr. Jobs, the man was a fruitcake (no pun intended since he called himself a fruitarian). His behavior towards other people was, at best, erratic, and very often anti-social.
Perhaps the most telling characterization of Jobs took place amid his confrontation with John Sculley in the mid-1980s. After a harrowing day of dealing with Jobs – who had just been relieved of his position as head of the struggling Macintosh division by the Apple Board of Directors – Sculley went home and discussed the matter with his wife. She jumped in her car and found Jobs at a local restaurant, where he was plotting a coup. He initially refused to look at her, and, when she insisted upon speaking with him, responded with his practiced, unblinking stare. Recoiling, she told him “When I look into most people’s eyes, I see a soul. When I look into yours, I see a bottomless pit, an empty hole, a dead zone.” That about sums up the famous Steve Jobs.
But the fact that he broke almost all the rules of the Left and yet remained an icon to them is quite instructive. Here are some examples:
1. He was a horrible employer. He maligned employees in public meetings, and often axed staff members for no good reason. When he needed to reduce the head count at Pixar, he insisted on firing people immediately without any severance. One of his lieutenants pleaded with him to provide two weeks’ notice, to which he replied “OK, but the notice is retroactive to two weeks ago.” Can you imagine what would happen if Bank of America ever did that?
2. He exercised maniacal control over his products, adamantly refusing to consider open platforms. When he developed the Macintosh, he didn’t allow slots for other cards, and even created customized screws to ensure that only Apple employees could open the boxes. He maintained this closed platform philosophy for the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone – which is one reason why sales of Google’s Android-based smart phones have now surpassed the iPhone (and also why sales of Android-based tablets will exceed iPads within the next year).
3. Through extensive marketing, he convinced people to pay more for his products than comparable products offered by his competitors. On the average, iPhones cost about $100 more than equivalent Android-based phones, yet people buy iPhones because of the marketing. How capitalistic. Apple also gets its customers to replace their existing products with newer models (even if the original product isn’t obsolete) by refusing to supply major software upgrades. That’s pretty predatory marketing.
4. Steve Jobs was always – and Apple continues to be – a monumental exporter of American jobs. While President Obama is running around accusing Mitt Romney of exporting jobs, he is well aware that Jobs was the master, creating over 700,000 manufacturing positions in China. To his credit, however, Jobs did tell the President to his face that he exported jobs because the educational system in America is disgraceful due to its domination by teachers unions.
5. Using these business practices, he rang up the largest profits in American history, but does anyone complain about Apple’s outsized profiteering? The Left complains about banks and oil companies and drug companies because they’re not “cool” like Steve Jobs. But Apple’s profit margins are 29.66%, compared to Shell Oil’s 6.74% or Citibank’s 11.73%.
6. And after earning exorbitant profits, he practiced serious tax avoidance (which I wholeheartedly endorse for any entity, but the Left hates.) What’s fascinating is how the Left protected and excused him for this; in fact, the New York Times just published a serious analysis of Apple’s tax avoidance schemes. It’s obvious that the Times knew about this for years, but chose not to write about it when Jobs was alive.
It’s also obvious that Jobs was intimately involved in this tax strategy. This was a maniacal man. Isaacson writes that at the gala event celebrating the launch of NeXT, Jobs was involved in everything with no detail being too small. For example, he personally reviewed the invitation list and approved the menu – behavior that was typical throughout his business career. He clearly knew Apple was engaged in every possible scheme to avoid taxes. To be fair to the Times, at least they contrasted the tax rate of Apple with that of the Evil Empire (WalMart). Apple’s federal tax rate was 9.8% while the Evil Empire paid 24%. What is a liberal to do?
7. It wasn’t until late in life that he started to make substantial contributions to charitable organizations. Compared to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, he was never a generous person and chose to live in quite a luxurious life-style. Compare that with a contemporary who also earned huge amounts of money, but lived on less than 1% of it and started a foundation early in his career that directed millions of dollars to charity – the evil Michael Milken.
The point of all this is that the Left has always chosen its favored capitalists. Unions anoint business people whom they favor, and our President has been a major practitioner of crony capitalism – picking winners and losers. If Steve Jobs (and Apple) gets a pass for whatever reason, then every business in America should be treated the same way.
And we didn’t even mention the child and slave labor used to manufacture Apple’s products.