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Samizdata quote of the day

“Nobody ever asked why Steve Jobs kept working after he was rich. Everyone understood.”

Virginia Postrel, writing about the computer entrepreneur and business visionary, who died yesterday.

18 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • He was not nearly as rich as he might have been. He became a billionaire when Apple had its first great stock run in 1981, but sold all his Apple stock (at a bad price) when he was thrown out. After he came back, he received one stock grant about ten years ago, which is now worth a couple of billion dollars. The bulk of his wealth ultimately came from his investment in Pixar, which was eventually acquired by Disney. He was still obscenely rich by any reasonable standard, but not Bill Gates or Larry Ellison rich, and he could have been a great deal richer if he had asked to be paid regularly in large grants of stock options during his time at Apple, which he certainly could have.

    The plans for his house are quite interesting. It’s undoubtedly a nice house, but basically just a house. Clearly his job at Apple was everything to him.

    The first computer I ever used was an Apple II in 1982. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I’ve used a lot of Apple products ever since, not in any sense fanatically or exclusively (at present, I am using an iPad, an Android phone, and PCs running a mixture of OS-X, Windows, and Linux) but often.

    Ah, crap. This is terrible news.

  • Indeed. I was never much a fan of the Apple products themselves, but there is no doubt that they made a great difference in the world, if only through setting standards for everyone else to follow. Needless to add, I always admired the man himself for his vision and his drive. A great loss to humanity, and at such a young age too. Very sad.

  • David Bouvier

    Michael Jennings – odd choice of words “still obscenely rich by any reasonable standard”.

    It is not a synonym for “very rich”. You are saying that reasonable people find it offensive that Steve Jobs acquired personal wealth off the back of creating Apple, or it seems indeed that you find the ownership of wealthby individuals to be offensive per se beyond a certain point.

    Why? You think large corporations and government are bettr owners?

  • I think the language has evolved to the point where “obscenely” does simply mean “very” in front of the word “rich”, and indeed a few other words. (It is a much stronger form of the word “very”, which is why I used it). I think it is exactly the same usage as if I were to describe a dessert as “obscenely good”. I don’t think such a usage has any negative connotations at all, at least not for me. Certainly I don’t find anything wrong with Steve Jobs’ wealth.

  • RW

    There was a Caesar – when comes such another?

    Goodbye, Steve, and thanks for everything. Obscenely great!

  • Yes, this is terrible news.

    It bothers me that even with the resources at his disposal, Jobs could not keep himself alive. I’m attending a conference on Saturday at which life extension technology will be discussed. If the optimists there are correct, one day we’ll all be much richer than Steve Jobs.

  • Okay, look at it from this perspective. From being worth $5 Billion US in 2000 to being worth around $350 Billion US today (give or take), is an incredible amount of value creation.

    Not all of it has been directly attributable to Steve Jobs, but a good portion of it has.

    Through this he has become a low level billionaire with a net worth of around $5.5 Billion US.

    I’m sorry, but I see that as fully justified. In actual fact, Mr. Jobs was probably underpaid and undervalued, however he made it quite clear that it was Apple which was his lifes work and his outstanding achievement not the money he earned doing this.

    As a libertarian, free market capitalist, I have no problem with any of this.

  • Laird

    Agreed, John. And I doubt that anyone here disagrees. I think David was objecting to the use of the term “obscenely”, not the “rich” part. (And Johnathan answered appropriately.)

  • I think the only thing we are arguing about is whether “obscenely” is always pejorative. To my case that it is not, I think I might add that it is a strong form of “filthy rich” which is another case of a usually negative adjective being added to “rich” without the resultant expression necessarily being negative.

    I think that Steve Jobs probably was underpaid, but that was only because he chose to be. The Apple board would have paid him a lot more if he had wanted them to, but he asked them not to. I don’t seriously think he was underappreciated though, given the reaction to his death this morning.

  • One thing that I never understood was why Bill Gates was nighted, but Steve Jobs never was.

    Sure, Bill has been doing some pretty targetted charitable spending on getting as much charitable bang-for-the-buck as possible, but I’m not sure how genuine that is.

    It has been suggested (as the song goes) that Bill Gates is “buying a stairway to heaven”, but I think it’s more likely that he’s trying to buy himself a Nobel prize.

    Steve Jobs was a very flawed personality, but by far the better man.

  • Sure, Bill has been doing some pretty targetted charitable spending on getting as much charitable bang-for-the-buck as possible, but I’m not sure how genuine that is

    Oh, Bill Gates is a pretty flawed man too. He would do almost anything to beat the competition. Steve Jobs on the other hand was more interested in making the best possible products, so I prefer Steve on that score too.

    Oh, I am sure it is genuine. Bill genuinely wants to make the world a better place through his charitable giving. As to how useful it is, I don’t really know. Third world aid by management consultant is almost certainly better than third world aid by government, but I am still not sure how far above noise it actually is. (On the other hand, the Blair government was such a big client of McKinsey & Co that the cynic in me wonders how different the two things actually are). The truth is that Bill did far more good for the third world through what he did at Microsoft than anything he has and will do subsequently. And I think that Steve Jobs did far more good at Apple than Bill Gates ever did at Microsoft.

    And, in truth, I think that Jeff Bezos’ clear intentions to use his money to put a man on Mars will ultimately do more good than Gates’ altruism, also.

  • jerome

    thinking a good is a good for life. so keep thinking a good.

  • Steven Rockwell

    I don’t know anything about Steve Jobs the man. Good, bad, religious, athiest, greedy, philanthropist, whatever. I don’t care if his morning regimen involved having a protein shake made from kittens and hundred dollar bills, it was all worth it just for my iPod.

  • James Metcalfe

    “Nobody ever asked why Steve Jobs kept working after he was rich. Everyone understood.”

    Surely even someone as savvy as V.P would understand that money is neither the beginning nor the end. What matters most is what we do in the time we are allowed on this planet … and Jobs changed all our lives in the short time he was here. We should concentrate on what he achieved here, not on what his personal gain was.

  • RAB

    I have no problem with the amount of money Steve Jobs made, in fact I agree he was probably hugely underpaid.

    He was a brilliant marketeer who managed to get the maximum return out of his very cool and stylish devices. But was he such a great innovator?

    Most of what Apple produces is selling people stuff that already exists, but in supercool boxes, and at much inflated prices. The brand sell almost on a Cult basis.

    The iPod is what really turned the company around, but that was no in house invention of Apple’s but a rip off of an earlier patent that had lapsed. The iPod was invented by a Brit in the 70s…


    But the poor sod had managed to invent the motor car before someone invented petrol, in that the maximum memory chip available to him was three minutes worth or so. Bloody expensive single eh?

    I also find the Apple org kinda Fascist. You have to pay them for every damn thing, whether you use them or not, and they are becoming increasingly liable to sue rivals over infringing their so called patents just to knock out the competition with injunctions and other legal threats.

    I hope the new Amazon Kindle colour takes them down a peg or two.

    That said, Jobs worked 150% for his vision and his company, and 56 in no age to die. He raised the bar that others must jump in order to stay in business. Can’t say fairer than that.

  • jdm

    I completely understand why he kept working after he was rich. Indeed, until just about the time he died.

    He liked his work.

    My understanding is that this is fairly common among “computer people”. I’m one and cannot for the life of me understand the idea of retirement (for me, the living dead). I can’t even conceive of not doing what I’m doing now. I know I’m not unique in this regard.

  • In addition to all of the above, the genius of Steve Jobs is that his secondary efforts to move more hardware, are incredibly ground-breaking. Apple is a hardware company. What is amazing is that: they converted their operating system to a Unix-based design, and yet put a user interface on top of it that non-Unix people could use. With iTunes, they obliterated the notion that digital music sales were a no-profit dead end, and did it better than the established players, and in fact in spite of them. The iPod was sleek and introduced the touch-sensitive thumb wheel, which naysayers pooh-poohed as being too subtle for normal users, but is still poorly copied today by competitors who fail at it again and again. The iPhone brought a whole new user interface paradigm and completed the dots for a personal communications device which was also becoming a personal computer. That user interface was evolved to allow Jobs to show us we wanted the tablet form factor, and he largely gets credit for having the vision to create that market amid the bodies of many failed competitors.

    Jobs was an utter tyrant; I wouldnt work for him. But he’s made our lives immeasurably better. I will therefore cut him a great deal of slack as to his turtleneck fetish.

  • Paul Marks

    One normally says “Rest In Peace” when someone dies.

    But that would not fit Steve Jobs – he would always want something constructive to do (to achieve).