On the tragic passing of Steve Jobs, while still a relatively young man, it is interesting to juxtapose him to Alan Greenspan, one of the other iconic figures of our time. One made us rich, with a vast array of new products and new possibilities. The other made us poor with a long-lasting downturn that could persist for more than a decade.
The two of them can be taken as symbols for the best and worst of modern capitalism. Jobs is the symbol of capitalism when it works. Again and again he broke through barriers, creating new products that qualitatively altered the market by making vast improvements over the competition.
Apple made personal computers a standard household product by developing a simple user friendly idiot-proof system that anyone could use. Jobs was a decade ahead of the Microsoft-based systems, using menu driven computers in the mid-80s that were not matched by Microsoft until Windows was developed in the mid-90s. His later generation of computers continues to include features that make it far superior to the competition.
As we know, computers were only the beginning. The iPod changed the way people listened to music. The recently developed CD quickly followed the record on the dust heap of antiquated technologies. Vast amounts of music could be stored in a small handheld device instead of requiring massive bookshelves of records, as had been the case just twenty years earlier.
Then we had the iPhone that made smart phones a standard appliance featuring everything from video cameras to translation systems. And, of course there is the iPad, which, along with its competitors, is revolutionizing the way we read books and is largely replacing the laptop computer.
Jobs didn't do any of this by himself. He put together teams of great innovators. But the point is that he was able to recognize talented people and give them the means to make great innovations and bring them to the market. This is what a market economy ...