The morning after Steve Jobs died last week, I watched a usual Morning Joe panel step far outside its sweet spot and try to eulogize Jobs’ impact. Joe Nocera was pretty effective, mostly because he had paid close attention to Jobs and Apple, and Willie Geist was at least in touch with the culture. But Joe, Mika, Pat Buchanan, Ed Rendell and Mike Barnicle were grabbing onto thoughts like shipwreck victims seeking driftwood. In no particular order, Jobs was a great inventor, a great businessman, a great designer, an innovator, demanding, our Edison, our Ford, and ultimately, a great American. Not of these answers were particularly insightful, none were wrong, none added to our sum of knowledge about the man.
I wish these people had stuck to their area of expertise. Will Jobs end up changing politics? Ford did: the rise of a middle class, the creation of the car-enabled suburb. Edison did: we now have a politics shaped and controlled by mass electronic media. Surely Jobs has already had an impact, with instant information in the palm of your hand. But there are other changes. What will it mean when there is no privacy, for example, no privacy, when you can find anyone anywhere by tracking their phones? What will it mean for political compromise, when everyone has become accustomed to being able to review an infinite number of choices, and to be able to have their selection, any time, any where? (My kids’ idea of deferred gratification is watching something on DVR.) What will it mean for political discourse when people will not be able to sit at a table and have a conversation without simultaneously talking with friends on the phone and on line?
I also wish one of the politicos at the Morning Joe table had brought up the topic that usual dominates their conversation: taxes. Because here’s a question I have: do you think Steve Jobs ever factored in the marginal tax rate when he was i-plotting his business decisions? Because I don’t; I think he was motivated by the love of what he was doing. I mean, if you listen to Perry and Palin and Cantor and all the usual Republican mouthpieces, you hear them say that if you raise the marginal tax rates, it will kill people’s incentive to start businesses and invest in new products and so on. Because I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that Steve Jobs–great inventor, great businessman, great innovator, great American–just wanted to do stuff he thought was cool. Do you think for an instant he ever said, “You know, this i-Pad is just sensational, and the i-phone is just going to rock the universe. Thank God the marginal tax rate isn’t three points hire, because otherwise, I just couldn’t be bothered.” I’m sure that as tax rates rise, the cost does diminish the incentive to work and to invest, but for the most part, people choose their work because they are excited about the activity and the challenge and the self-satisfaction.
[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski.com]