Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs vs. The Wall Street Protesters

              (not the way to get a job)

Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder, died today.  The first thing I thought when I heard of his passing this morning on my way to work, was, "Uh oh, there falls a keystone in the wall in the wall of American exceptionalism," meaning that America is losing the kind of wild imagination, when hitched to hard work and business genius, that spawned American phenonema like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Bill Gates. The tenacity of these characters, rooted in the free and rich soils of American society, sprung new products and services that changed the world and made America great . . . and hundreds of thousands wealthy.

For the past three weeks, protesters have occupied Wall Street, protesting everything from the profitability of banks to the Right-to-Work movement to corporate handouts.  I do not dismiss all of these grievances out of hand, as I strongly sympathize with the calls to end corporate welfare and the illegal wars overseas.  I'm also not willing to say that conditions are perfect today for finding decent work or starting your own business.  But 1976, when Jobs co-founded Apple, was much better?  Hardly.

Were Steve Jobs a 20-year-old at NYU today, would he be in a drum circle or marching for the right to have other people provide for his happiness or livelihood?  I don't think so, it would take time away from pursuing his goals. Look at the white sign in the lower right hand corner of this picture.  It says a lot about what's wrong with America today.

Steve Jobs dropped out of college to start a company.  He took a very large risk.  My ancestors packed up their stuff in England, Ireland, Germany and Lithuania, got on a boat to start over in country they'd never seen.  They took an even bigger risk.  Where is that kind of risk-taking today?

America, it seems to me, can only see rewards these days.  The unhappy coincidence of a faltering economy and the rise of global competition has made these rewards much harder to materialize.  I think we forget that between reward and risk comes the work of developing one's talents, merchandising them, relentless effort and making the most one can muster from whatever twe have.  Instead, America blames others for woes.  I myself am guiltly of this on occassion instead of focusing on what I can control most effectively: my own thoughts and behaviors.  We have the right to do so, but most are wrong in so doing. 

We each should feel a responsibility to develop our talents and make sure the world makes good use of them; in some cases, like Steve Jobs, we can become wealthy beyond our wildest dreams and literally change the world.  For most people, this means leading productive, peaceful lives in which we produce enough for ourselves, and even produce a surplus that provides for strangers (taxes or charity).  The protestors, now on their third-week of occupying Wall Street, may want to think about going back their job search. Or more likely, beginning one.