The real Steve Jobs

The capitalist genius as jerk

The author is a frequent contributor to the CN&R.

I know we’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but if Steve Jobs wasn’t a jerk, then we need a new definition of that word. Much of the glowing commentary following the death of the Apple CEO came from that swath of aging baby boomers who think they still represent values and attitudes picked up back in the ’60s, all that peace, love and brotherhood stuff Steve Jobs took as his mantle when he named his product line after the Beatles’ failed attempt to turn themselves into a new breed of businessmen.

If jeans and a love of rock music were all it took to live by some of those innocent but profoundly idealistic old counter-cultural dreams, then Jobs might deserve his special place in hippie heaven, the chair for angels who could boogie down, flash the peace sign, and still run a successful Fortune 500 company.

In reality, however, Steve Jobs had more in common with Mitt Romney than with guys like Wavy Gravy, or even Warren Buffet. Outsourcing jobs without regard to the conditions of workers who slave to make his product in China didn’t trouble Jobs in the slightest, not so long as his company was reaping $400,000 in profit for each worker.

But Steve Jobs didn’t just outsource jobs; he outsourced his conscience, subcontracting for work overseen by people utterly without concern for workers in Chinese factories who endure conditions so dehumanizing and devoid of hope that suicide can seem like the only way out of an unendurable existence.

And, by most of the evidence, Steve Jobs was more imperious, demanding and nasty to underlings than most feudal lords.

Henry Ford, the innovator and “job creator” archetype of his day, was, by most accounts, also a jerk, but he knew that it made sense to pay workers a living wage, enough so people who made his cars could afford to buy them.

Steve Jobs was canonized in the flood of eulogies that made him the saintly savior of capitalism, a guy who incorporated ’60s attitudes into corporate culture. But, as John Lennon once wrote: “Imagine no possessions/ I wonder if you can/ No need for greed or hunger/ A brotherhood of man/ Imagine all the people/ sharing all the world …”

For all the ’60s trappings woven into the Steve Jobs “brand,” and for all the imagination required to dream up his gadgets, the Apple CEO lacked John Lennon’s imagination. And his dream. And his heart.