The publication Obserwator Finansowy interviewed me on a variety of subjects.
Q. Can we speak of Steve Jobs as of a businessman of a “self-made made” type? I’m asking because many of today’s richest have made their fortune using not only their business skills but mainly their relationship with government.
A. I would argue with the term “self made” because all ideas are rooted in the ideas of others; there is no such thing as autarkic entrepreneurship. It takes away nothing from success to say that the innovator is an “idea thief.” The competitive process is as much about learning as it is improving. Jobs has been a very good learner – but then he also had the guts to do something with what he learned. So, yes, he is absolutely the real thing, a genuine creator who was never shy about making money. There is another thing I love about his way: he was never shy about selling, marketing, advertising, pitching his products. He was so happy to do that that his way became emblematic: one man on a giant stage with just his gizmo, giving the sales pitch. Love it. It’s like he also rehabilitated salesmanship after decades of attacks on the whole institution. He was proud of his company’s stuff. Why shouldn’t he be the one to tell the world?
Q. Is Jobs – with all his business skills and genius – an exception or just an example of what true capitalist really are or a high standard paradigm for others to follow?
A. There are many such figures in the world today. They are everywhere. He was really high profile because of the focus on the end user and because his stuff was cutting edge. But entrepreneurship of this sort is intrinsic to every successful enterprise. There are millions and millions of businesses that deal only business to business and the consumer never hears about them, never even knows the name. But they are essential to the productive process. Every one of these is an entrepreneurial company in the same way.
Q. Can you name some others great businessmen? Not only from IT sector… And more universally: if you were to name the greatest capitalist in history who would it be?
A. This is really an impossible task. I would say that Bill Gates is in a similar category as Steve Jobs. Why do people love one and oppose the other? I think the reason is mostly aesthetic, but from an economic point of view, Microsoft has so far served more people and made access to computing even more ubiquitous. And we could march backwards through time all the way through the Gilded Age, the Industrial Revolution, the Renaissance, and I would even include the poor peddler in the 8th century who made it possible for people to have grains, cotton, pottery, and other essentials. Everyone who has ever saved, taken a risk, and served others through voluntary exchange is deserving of praise.
Q. Actually some can ask – what’s so great about making money? What differs – if anything – people like Jobs from, say, bankers from Goldman Sachs or other institutions who without any remorse took taxpayers money?
A. Goldman is, in some ways, a wonderful company. It is filled with brilliant people, sharp minds. I would just like to see this company cut off from the state so that its merit of the institution could be obvious. When a company is working with the state and its banking institutions, it puts itself on the other side of the ledger. Instead of creator, it becomes a grafter and looter and parasite. Goldman is a real mixture today. As for what is great about making money in a market, it is this: profits are the sign and seal of a job well done.
Q. Some say that Jobs and other capitalists nowadays are “creating artificial needs” so, to speak clearly, are offering us product we don’t truly need, persuading us the opposite, selling those products and in result making our lives focusing on “having” not on “being”?
A. Who is to say what is an artificial need? Anyone who says that they know the answer is positioning himself as the dictator, and that’s offensive and dangerous. All needs above sustenance are, in some sense, imaginary. But the imagination is precisely where the real action and drama of life takes place.
A. Apart from those – in my opinion – ethically doubtful people who make their money just because they know somebody in government, can we see other examples of “bad capitalists”… There’s a big campaign against Monsanto and GMO, people say they want to “poison us” with this food. Do you think that such an attitude is possible among capitalists? If so that would suggest that some companies are focused only on short term profits?
A. Monsanto is another mixed bag. It is a wonderful company in many ways, but it has a problem with patent enforcement, that is, using coercion to hamper competition. Its use of patents goes beyond purely defensive purposes. It is aggressive. The mixed economy is a great evil mainly because it takes something beautiful – trade between people – and turns it into something morally compromised and socially destructive. In a market, it is preposterous to think that any company that wants to last would seek to poison people. As for time horizons, even bad companies are better than the state in terms of thinking of the long term.
Q. Where can we seek for the explanation of people’s hated towards capitalists? Businessmen are called robbers, they’re often accused of exploitation of their workers because (actually I think that minimum wage laws are the fruit of such opinions), they are called fraudsters and many other bad names. Doesn’t really anybody understands that without people making business there would be no prosperity?
A. My friend Tom Woods says that a major reason that people don’t understand economics is that it takes at least two steps of logic, and most people are only willing to take one. That’s very interesting. And yet I can certainly detect that there was a time in American history when business success universally praised and highly regarded. This was in the Gilded Age when many of the greatest achievers worked without any support from the state. In the same way that the the discrediting of religion on the Continent began when the unity of Church and state, I think that interventionism of the current fascist variety can only end in discrediting free enterprise. There are many other ideological reasons why people don’t understand the contribution of business to society but this is certainly one of them.
Q. In times of the current crisis we often hear the word “speculator” from the mouth of politicians and even some economist trying to blame them for everything what’s bad – from the gasoline and food prices or bad condition of public finance to the stock market crash. I even heard some economist saying that public debt is in fact private debt made by irresponsible people because of the lack of government control… Should we really condemn finance people? Hedge funds, investment banks?
A. The condemnation of speculators really is rooted in gross ignorance. The state likes to blame them for all trouble in economic life. They are convenient scapegoats. And they are an easy target in a culture of envy that seeks to tear down anyone who exercises superior judgment.
Q. Every time I go to cinema to watch a movie with a businessman in it or read a book I get a picture of the bad guy with a vast sum of money against the poor one with ideals. Actually “Iron Man” movie was the only one in which a successful capitalist was a hero and government officials were partly responsible for the mass that happened…
A. I agree and this certainly takes a terrible toll. Society must value enterprise and market-based wealth making or else it will end up suffering the consequences. I’m happy to see the widespread admiration of Steve Jobs and what he has done. I hope it is a harbinger of change, and I wish the attitude could be universalized to every single entrepreneur in society. However, the problem of anti-capitalism tends to feed on itself in a world with high unemployment, and it is especially dangerous when it affects young people. If people encounter commercial life as a producer only in their mid twenties, that is a serious problem. Kids really should start remunerative work at a very young age, not because they need to provide for their families but because the workplace is a better teacher than the classroom, and commercial life teaches more about the world and life skills than you can gain from any book. We should repeal the minimum wages, repeal payroll taxes, and repeal child labor laws so that people can fall in love with serving others through commercial work at the earliest possible age.
Q. Thank you!