Will Wilkinson asks an interesting question: Why doesn't Steve Jobs get the same kind of criticism other billionaires get? After all, Wilkinson says, a lot of his fortune is built on patent trolling and exploitation of poorly paid Chinese workers, and he contributes nothing to charity. His explanation is that Jobs has brought beauty into our lives:
Mr Jobs got really stinking rich, in his second tenure as Apple CEO, by adding a dash of elegance to the lives of consumers by selling them gorgeously refined devices at a premium. The average American's life is not overfull with gracefully sleek design, to say the least, and in many ways our standards of living have not improved upon that of our parents. But Apple under Mr Jobs has offered the mass market dazzling technical progress with the sort of tastefully luxurious sheen usually reserved for the seriously well-to-do. For this many of us are grateful...
But what about the guys who get rich digging oil out of the ground so we can charge our iPhones? Stick it to 'em, the greedy bastards.
Maybe. But I think there are some other, more important reasons. First of all, Jobs has never involved himself in politics, so there's no partisan reason to dislike him. Oil companies spend a lot of time trying to convince Americans that we ought to allow our air and water to be more polluted and elect more Republicans. Wall Street tycoons can be relied on to regularly do things like whine that eliminating the carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers would be like Hitler invading Poland. Apple has lobbyists, but most of us never hear about them or what they're advocating.
We also tend to think that people who got incredibly rich through innovation and creativity deserve that wealth more than people who did things like pull oil out of the ground. This obviously applies to the way we look at tech barons, but it's also applied to someone like Warren Buffett, who is portrayed in the media as a brilliant, creative thinker, even if he's just picking stocks. Buffett also seems like a nice guy, modest despite his success. Contrast that with, say, Oracle chief Larry Ellison, who comes across like a jerk whose primary motivation in life is to make sure everyone knows how rich he is. Jobs's public profile essentially consists of him getting on a stage every six months to show us a magical new gadget, so he gives people no obvious reason to dislike him.
All that being said, Wilkinson is right that Jobs, unlike almost any other corporate leader, is connected in people's minds to the products his company produces, products people love. Everyone who owns an iPhone or a MacBook knows who Steve Jobs is. Who's the CEO of the company that produced the gas you used to fill up your car last week? Some cigar-chomping defiler of the land, but who knows what his name is?
One more thing: Who are the people who target corporate magnates for scorn? Liberals. And who uses Macs?