Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wolf on Steve Jobs Vs. Obama

Dr. Milton Wolf has a nice new OpEd in the 9/9/2011 Washington Times, "Obama more telegraph than iPhone".

Here is the opening:
Steve Jobs, chairman of Apple Inc., became a billionaire not by force or manipulation but instead by understanding the central tenet of free-market capitalism: He served other people. Millions the world over have voluntarily handed over their hard-earned money in return for his high-tech smartphone, which ushered in a new age in communication. In some ways, the iPhone is, in fact, emblematic of America itself...
Dr. Wolf then contrasts the amazing innovations in the relative-free technology sector with the more heavily regulated sectors of the economy such as health care, energy, etc.

The failures of the various recent attempts at government crony capitalism (aka "public-private partnerships") are damning:
If you want to know what a government-created iPhone might look like, just take a look at a Government Motors Chevy Volt, the overpriced, short-range electric car nobody wants. Or take a look at Solyndra, the government-funded and now bankrupt solar-panel maker. Or Johnson Controls Inc. Or Evergreen Solar. Or SolFocus Inc. Or any other of President Obama's mergers of state and corporate power that are bankrupting our nation.
(Read the full text of "Obama more telegraph than iPhone".)

Whenever the government intervenes in the market place, all they do is thwart producers and consumers from acting freely on their best rational judgment. Americans are no longer allowed to spend their own money on what they deem best -- rather, their money is diverted directly or indirectly into the pockets of those with most political "pull". It should come as no surprise that the result is marketplace failure. But it's crucial to remember that the failure is due to government interference in the marketplace (rather than the free market.)

As George Mason University professor Peter Boettke once observed:
If you bound the arms and legs of gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps, weighed him down with chains, threw him in a pool and he sank, you wouldn't call it a 'failure of swimming'. So, when markets have been weighted down by inept and excessive regulation, why call this a 'failure of capitalism'?
As one minor point of terminology, I personally would describe Steve Jobs relationship to his customers as "trading" rather than "serving". Jobs was a producer who expected to trade value-for-value with his customers. The beauty of a free market is that when compulsion is forbidden, trades must take place voluntarily, which means they happen when both parties deem it in their mutual interest. The natural result is a "win-win" transaction, compared to the "win-lose" (or "lose-lose") transactions which involve theft or government compulsion.

As this nice collection of Steve Jobs quotes shows, Jobs was not primarily driven by a desire to serve customers, but rather by a desire to produce good products according to his best vision and judgment. One example:
We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn't build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren't going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.
Of course, Steve Jobs wanted to sell products. But in an important sense, "serving the customer" was secondary to his primary motivation of producing a great value.

The beauty of free-market capitalism is that it fosters and rewards precisely this kind of fiercely independent desire for innovation and production. Over time, the best producers rise to the top through the aggregate interactions of producers and consumers each seeking their best interests, exchanging value for value without compulsion.

The producers who become wealthy in such a system will have earned their wealth as the result of trading with willing consumers, rather than through political cronyism and clout. Ayn Rand once described this approach as the "Trader Principle". To the extent we have allowed this principle to operate, we have made America the wonder of the world.