President Obama’s state of the union speech yesterday focused on creating jobs (a word he used at least 25 times). On the same day, Steve Jobs presented Apple’s revolutionary and magical iPad. Which will have a more positive effect on people’s lives?
Let’s look at their track records. When President Bush was inaugurated as president, 130 million Americans had jobs. By the time he left office, it was 134 million, not a big increase, but not a decline either.
The first thing President Obama did was to persuade Congress to pass a $787 billion stimulus package in order to “save jobs.” As of December, only 130.9 million workers still had jobs, 3.4 million less than when Obama took office. You can blame that on Bush, you can blame it on whatever you want, but the fact is that Obama promised to create jobs and instead we lost millions of them. At least some people would argue that one reason the economy hasn’t recovered more quickly is that businesses are unwilling to make investments in an unpredictable political environment.
Meanwhile, Steve Jobs started a company in his garage that now earns close to $50 billion a year, employs 75,000 people, and has unquestionably changed the way we live — most people would argue for the better. Even if you don’t have a Macintosh, your Windows PC is heavily influenced by the graphical user interface that Macintosh pioneered. Even if you don’t have an iPod, the way you acquire music, view movies, and even watch TV has been transformed by Apple and Jobs’ other efforts. Even if you don’t have an iPhone, chances are your telecommunications have been dramatically altered by what has become the standard for comparison of smart phones.
Let’s compare their proposals. Obama proposes to “freeze government spending for three years.” Yet he is also going to Florida to announce which states are getting funds for high-speed rail. (Ironically, Florida is the state that decided not to build high-speed rail because the environmental impact statement it wrote for the project concluded that the environmental costs would be greater than the benefits.) High-speed rail is like a Lay’s potato chip: once you get started, you can’t stop, so the $8 billion Obama is giving away today is only the down payment on the down payment of the total bill. In other words, despite giving lip service to reducing deficits, Obama’s real policy is pork-barrel as usual.
Meanwhile, Steve Jobs’ new product really is revolutionary. While it isn’t perfect, I suspect it will sell well and ultimately transform how we read (and write) books, newspapers, and magazines, not to mention how we do many other things.
People laughed at Chris Matthews when he said “I felt a thrill going up my leg” when he heard candidate Obama speak. I understood him perfectly: Obama’s speeches were very persuasive. Yet I feel the same thrill whenever I watch what many people regard as the greatest television commercial in history.
The difference is that I knew Obama could not keep his promises; government doesn’t work on hope. Steve Jobs and Apple Computer did keep their promises, not without some stumbles but ultimately by making products that people want to use. This is because Apple responds to markets and is driven by intense competition to innovate like crazy. In contrast, government responds to pork and has a monopoly in many of the things it does, leading it to focus on obsolete technologies that benefit special interest groups, not the nation as a whole.
Like the great leader in the 1984 commercial, Obama would like to steamroll his political opponents into accepting his agenda in the name of “unity.” If he really wanted to create jobs and help the economy recover, he would get government out of the way of people like Steve Jobs and companies like Apple.