The legacy of a billionaire

Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, died recently, and the internet has been flooded with eulogies and praises to/about him. If he’d been a member of the Catholic church I swear they’d give him posthumous sainthood, and I’m not surprised by this at all. When Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Warren Buffet die they’ll get the same treatment. Even Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers will get some kind of glowing recommendation letter to Heaven from someone.

I’m not saying that all this praise is completely undeserved. Steve Jobs (and every other billionaire out there) put a lot of mental and physical effort into building companies that provides useful products to humanity. I respect that, but that’s only half the truth. It’s misleading and unethical to only acknowledge the high points of any billionaire’s career, and the fact that we do praise billionaires so eagerly and consistently is a sign of deeper flaw in society that desperately needs to be addressed and rectified.

You can become a millionaire by working hard, but there isn’t enough time, energy or opportunity in one person’s life to become a billionaire through hard work. The only way you become a billionaire is by underpaying your workers and over charging your customers (or owning stock in companies that underpay their workers and over charge their customers). So the only way to become a billionaire is to steal. The way you do that may be legal, but it’s still stealing. Steve Jobs may have been a technological visionary, but the cold, hard fact of the matter is he was a thief. I can respect the work that he did do, but I can’t respect him for the unreasonable, unnecessary mountains of cash he skimmed off the sweat shop slaves who built and sold Apple products.

Why did Steve Jobs deserve 8 billion dollars, no limit on his lunch breaks and 1000 heart felt eulogies but the people who build IPods apparently don’t even deserve to be treated like human beings? You could ask the same question about any billionaire, but almost nobody ever does. So we keep rewarding robber barons and keep punishing hard working poor people.

We can all agree that Steve Jobs deserves some recognition for his company’s product, but almost nobody ever talks about how much money Steve Jobs deserved for each IPod he sold. He wouldn’t have died with 8 billion dollars if the cost of an IPod reflected its production value. I’m not saying Steve Jobs should have sold his products at-cost. I’m raising the question of how high you can mark up the cost of goods and services before it becomes unethical. If you mark it up high enough to accumulate 8 billion dollars without being guilty of price gouging then how much money do you have to horde before your ethics become questionable? How about 68 billion dollars?

As it stands, the generally accepted answer to that question is that there is no limit. The more money you horde the bigger of a hero you are. Furthermore, the blame doesn’t lay on the CEO for overcharging for products. The blame lies on the customer for willingly paying whatever the advertised price is. There is some truth to that, but again, that’s only half the truth.

Steve Jobs knew there was no logical reason for his customers (many of whom were poor) to pay the price he wanted to charge for IPods. So he created one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever that framed the IPod as a status symbol first and an electronic gadget second. In other words, Steve Jobs has already gone down in history as a visionary business leader for orchestrating a propaganda campaign that exploited his customers’ mental weakness to swindle them out of more money. That’s not admirable. That’s dishonest and cruel, but he gets praise for it from so many people because the entire economy operates under the assumption that if you can be swindled then you deserve to be swindled. It’s probably more correct to say that if you can be swindled you should be swindled.

This isn’t how a utopia operates. This is how a dystopia operates. This philosophy creates poverty, which in turn creates misery and crime. That is part of Steve Job’s legacy, and whatever good things he did don’t change that fact.

It’s worth noting that Steve Jobs did give some money to charity, though every old granny in the world who puts a dollar in a collection plate at church gives a higher percentage of their income to charity than Steve Jobs did. I don’t want to sound ungrateful or discourage billionaires from giving to charity, but at the same time I can’t give them too much street credit when they’re giving away money they were never going to spend anyway. They didn’t lose anything by giving to charity, but they got a lot out of it in the form of a generous reputation and generous tax breaks. At any rate, if you have billions of dollars to give away, why not just cut out the middle man and leave that money with either your workers, customers or both? Does it justify burning your workers and customers if you’re nice to other people?

I haven’t heard any news about Steve Jobs giving leaving all of his money to charity after his death, but other billionaires have contrived a reputation as saints for making that claim. I don’t believe billionaires deserve praise for that either because it’s tantamount to cruising down the street in a stretch Hummer limousine drinking a glass of $10,000 wine and shouting at homeless people through the sun roof, “You’ll get my money when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!” I fail to see the honor in that sacrifice….not that Steve Jobs was even that generous.

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