Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs

You all know by now, of course. I just felt like it was worth putting up a condolence post. I've never been a real Apple product user, but when I think of Steve Jobs I think of (1.) how many people are deeply impacted by his products, (2.) his role as an exemplar of innovation, and (3.) this speech, which we actually had a long lunch-time discussion about at the NBER conference I was at last week:

There have been a lot of points in my life where I've felt like a real failure - a lot revolving around my professional and educational career (much like Jobs's speech here). But my experience with these failures has been similar to his (aside from the stupendous amounts of money, of course) - they've provided a way forward that I never would have anticipated before. The big failure for me was being rejected from PhD program after PhD program when I graduated from William and Mary, which eventually directed me toward the Urban Institute and GWU's public policy master's program. It felt like a miserable failure at the time - but as regular readers know it has shaped how I've moved forward, and given me incredible opportunities thanks to the senior researchers there who took me under their wing. I also simply could not have had a better exemplar than the Urban Institute of objective research on policy issues that is still able to make a positive difference in the world. My more recent failure has been another round of rejections to the programs I really felt I belonged in, namely Georgetown and Maryland. I don't feel as downtrodden as I did in 2006 when this happened, because I'm starting to see how failures happen for a reason (did I really belong there?) and open new doors. I may not get an academic position after I graduate from American - I'm certainly not likely to get a high-powered academic position. But I wonder if I could do more good not just for the world - but for the science of economics - outside of academia. Just as Jobs points out in this speech, I am more open to how we grow from failure than I was when I was younger.


One more thing I have to mention: I've been very disturbed by how politicized some of the blogosphere reactions to Jobs's death have been. Why is this where so many people's minds go after a tragedy? Why do people have to assume that because they support the good things that Jobs stood for, their political opponents somehow don't? I don't know - I'm not going to link to any of them, but I encourage people to try to stay edifying.


  1. The response of many libertarians and conservatives has been predictable, and a great example of what you called "the presumption of ideological orthogonality" - they're for free enterprise and entrepreneurship, so liberals must therefore be against them, and are thus inconsistent and hypocritical for lauding Steve Jobs.

    The truth, of course, is that most liberals are not radical socialists but center-left people who love capitalism when it works. Depending on how you look at it, they may not understand the mechanism completely and may have bad ideas about how to fix it, but they still see Apple as a good example of an economic process that produces results better than any stagnant and clunky control economy ever could.

    The left can sometimes be just as bad, though. They love the security and order that the state provides, so the small government-types obviously don't support those things, therefore they should just move to Somalia.

  2. (I don't want to derail the topic into politics, though. I was just sharing my thoughts on why people are politicizing this death - it's because they automatically see things in terms of left and right. It's a cosmic battle that must be waged on every frontier.)

    Anyway, RIP Jobs. Android > Apple, though :P

  3. You just made my day watoosh. I think the presumption of ideological orthogonality is a very important concept, but I've always figured people have had a "wtf is he talking about?" reaction to it.

    I think this is exactly the situation here - and I'm glad you see it that way too.


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