In Praise of Entrepreneurs

Technology, not politicians, has always been the driver of human progress. Whoever figured out how to grow grain reliably invented a product that not only fed many more people than hunting and gathering, but also allowed the creation of civilization (despite its potential ill effects on the health of civilized people).

The men who created Rome weren’t the politicians, but the engineers who built the aquaducts and the roads.

The industrial revolution and the development of capitalism was partly a result of far-sighted politicians who created the political systems that would allow commerce to thrive, but even more it was that of the people who developed the ships that opened up the New World, allowing the discovery of coffee and transmission of ideas. Later, the effect would be accelerated by Morse’s telegraph, Bell’s telephone, Marconi and Armstrong’s radio, Baird’s television, and even the Internet. Steve Jobs was just the latest in a long line of visionary people who bettered the lives of millions through his genius, by putting them in touch with others in innovative ways. Even many, apparently, despite their educational credentials, unable to appreciate the gift he had given them:

I was down at the Occupy Wall Street protest today, and never has the divide between the iPhone world and the politics world been so clear: I saw a bunch of people very well-served by their computers and telephones (very often Apple products) but undeniably shortchanged by our government-run cartel education system. And the tragedy for them — and for us — is that they will spend their energy trying to expand the sphere of the ineffective, hidebound, rent-seeking, unproductive political world, giving the Barney Franks and Tom DeLays an even stronger whip hand over the Steve Jobses and Henry Fords. And they — and we — will be poorer for it.

But I’m also saddened by a more personal reality. Steve Jobs (and Bill Gates) are my generational cohorts. We were all born in the same year. I’ve reached that time in life in which I look at obits to see which people my age (or younger) have shuffled off this mortal coil, and I find it particularly disheartening when someone who is my age, and had abundant resources, still couldn’t stave off the reaper. But then, I’m always a little surprised to learn that people of such abundant resources don’t devote more of them to funding research to help them (and others) live longer, so they can not just continue to enjoy life longer, but to bring joy to others. If I had their money, it’s what I would be doing. I imagine that Steve Jobs was spending a lot of money to keep himself alive, but I’m not aware of any donations to efforts that would have helped not just himself, but millions of others, to extend their lives.

But then, perhaps the qualities that enable, even drive them to do the things that personally spiritually enrich them crowd out the urge for self preservation and rational asset allocation. It may be that the same urges that allow them to focus so totally on helping the world in the areas of their expertise depletes their focus from issues farther afield from their personal knowledge, but which could help them continue to strive on. I see it as important, and it’s what I’d work on if I had their money, but then, I don’t have their money, partly because I’ve never changed the world in the way that they do.

In any event, the world has lost a great man, and one whose greatness, in terms of his contributions to human progress, vastly exceeds any contemporary politician. Which is, sadly, to damn him with faint praise.

Also read Richard Fernandez: "It's a Wonderful Life"