Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Producing Class hero is something to be

Today I feel sad about the passing of Steve Jobs.  Part of the sadness stems from the fact that I have thoroughly enjoyed my Macs since I got my hands on one in 1985.  Since then, I have written books, learned how to edit video and author DVDs, mastered photo manipulation, and figured out how to create 3D illustrations (among a host of other delightful skills I never even thought I could master after 40.)

In all this time and running a host of complex applications, no Mac of mine has ever lost so much as a sentence of data.  I mean, what's not to like?  I have had thousands of hours of time on a machine that has unearthed a wellspring of creativity.  Not so long ago, I got my eighth Mac.  It is utterly delightful.

But possibly the most interesting thing about Jobs for me was that he was such a perfect example of a Producer Class hero.  He had all the Producer virtues in spades—he spent every day trying to make his product better, he understood the economic value of aesthetics, and he defined his mission in life as making it easier for creative types to do their work better.  He even instinctively understood one of Veblen's more obscure concepts—The Instinct of Idle Curiosity.  This from Wired.
(Jobs) once recalled for me some of the long summers of his youth. I’m a big believer in boredom,” he told me. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, he explained, and “out of curiosity comes everything.” The man who popularized personal computers and smartphones — machines that would draw our attention like a flame attracts gnats — worried about the future of boredom. “All the [technology] stuff is wonderful, but having nothing to do can be wonderful, too.”
Because his efforts made him insanely rich, both the defenders of Capitalism and Marxism like to hold him up as an example.  And they miss the point.  While Jobs might actually be a pretty good example of Industrial Capitalism, there haven't been many of those folks in this era of Finance Capitalism.  While most ambitious young people head to Wall Street these days to see if they can get rich through scams, Jobs was a throwback to old-fashioned type of industrialist who actually believed he was supposed to build a better product.

To illustrate the difference, see below.  It is part of my class analysis that was such a large part of Elegant Technology.  See the blue cone that represents the Producers?  Jobs would occupy the space at the very topmost point of that cone.

I did this illustration on a 27" iMac.  Thanks Steve.  Without your Mac this interesting idea would still be locked up in my head.


  1. I'm not at all convinced that Steve Jobs was the great hero that he is portrayed as. There is almost a cult around him.

    What is less acknowledged is that most of the technologies that Apple utilized had been developed for many decades at university labs. The other innovations like smaller transistor processes are developed by companies like Samsung and TSMC (which Apple uses for their Fabs). They do design their own SOCs for their phones (they bought out PA Semiconductor and license their GPU design from Imagination), from which they design the CPU and GPU. That doesn't change though that they are not as innovative as one thinks.

    Their main innovation if you think about it is that they managed to integrate the existing technologies into something user friendly. The real innovation happens in labs, or it happens at places like ASML and Intel, where ever small semiconductors are built.

    The other consideration is Apple's pricing. If you look at their exorbitant profits, I think that you could very much make the case that Apple is a rent seeker. The other is their labor history (Steve Jobs in particular had a history of colluding to lower technology worker's wages) and what has happened in China (again difficult worker conditions). More recently, they've released their Macbook which relies on overpriced dongles, and a $300 USD coffee table book about themselves.

    By no means am I saying that Apple is not at times innovative, but I think that you've put Steve Jobs and Apple on a pedestal when they take on aspects of a predator class.

  2. I think that Mariana Mazzucato in her book the Entrepreneurial State had it right.

    I see your colleague Tony has a post on this one: