THE melancholy over Steve Jobs’s passing is not just about the loss of the inventor of so many products we enjoy. It is also about the loss of someone who personified so many of the leadership traits we know are missing from our national politics. Those traits jump out of every Jobs obituary: He was someone who did not read the polls but changed the polls by giving people what he was certain they wanted and needed before they knew it; he was someone who was ready to pursue his vision in the face of long odds over multiple years; and, most of all, he was someone who earned the respect of his colleagues, not by going easy on them but by constantly pushing them out of their comfort zones and, in the process, inspiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Tom Friedman always writes crap like this. He is secretly in love with the idea of a semi-planned economy, with a robust energy policy that destroys our ability to drive safe cars. He sees what he likes in China in particular. He seems instinctually unhappy with the stuff of politics: compromise, resistance by the people, polling, and the like. Those not-so-unimportant things are the indicia of “consent of the governed.” They are inherent in the process. They are supposed to prevent dingbat ideas like immigration amnesty and national healthcare that are unpopular with a great majority of Americans.
Business operates quite differently. They are essentially elected dictatorships: the owners (i.e., the stockholders and their directors) pick a leader to take a company in a certain direction. And business has a different and uniform arbiter of success: profit and loss. There are nice people and not-so-nice people in business. But to make it you have to do something that people want, that they are willing to pay money for, and that you can do cheaply enough to make a profit. That model is not really visible in certain fields–like government subsidized banks and energy companies–but it is true in such widely varying businesses as cell phone makers, restaurants, manufacturers, etc.
The one thing that might provide some across-the-board benefit to nearly all businesses might be a tariff. But Friedman hates that. It’s off the table. Not only does he have little regard for the American political system, but the American people themselves are, in his eyes, kind of obsolete. They’re too soft. Too coddled. Too white. Too uneducated. They are paid too much. Friedman is the world’s biggest apologist for globalization, which is just another word for complete indifference to the fate of one’s countrymen in global competition. But he purports to be a Cassandra, warning us to change our ways. Yet the most important and familiar way to do that, some kind of protective tariff and hardcore, pro-American negotiating with our trading partners, is off the table. For all his self-proclaimed sophistication borne from hanging out with rich guys in India and China and Davos, he forgets America is not Grenada or Mozambique. We have some money and power to throw around in these things. And a tariff need not be draconian to have some positive impact.
Government should generally not pick winners and losers. It is bad to subsidize this or that company, as we see in the case of the corrupt Solyndra. But government should–indeed it is duty-bound to–pick its people as a whole for success. Intramural competition should be robust. But competition with the rest of the world should be, as much as possible, tilted by our government in favor of our people and the businesses they work for. Tariffs would do this. Preventing mass third world immigration to our homeland would do that. Steve Jobs was a visionary, an innovator, and a great success. But we don’t need innovation per se in our politics; we simply need moral courage and patriotism, both of which have been in short supply, and both of which would recognize that our trade, immigration, and spending policies are killing American workers and American business.