Charity.

I just finished reading an opinion piece on Wired News, entitled Jobs vs. Gates: Who’s the Star? It was…interesting. Before we begin our little discourse, a few disclaimers are in order: I’m not a “Windows” guy. I’m not a “Mac” guy. (I think both platforms are equally annoying.) My ideal computer would look, feel, and work far different from either of them. (And not any closer to Linux, thank you very much.) I own no stock in Microsoft, Apple, or Pixar. I have met Mr. Bill (once, a long time ago) but we never really spoke. I’ve not met Jobs. I’ve owned both Macs and PCs. In short, I’m about as platform-neutral and unbiased an observer as you could hope for.

I should also reveal that I consider myself to be a Christian (Episcopalian, if you must know), a church-goer (to a non-denominational church in Amarillo), a Conservative, a Capitalist (with a capital “C”), and a big fan of Ayn Rand’s philosophy (except as it applies to religion).

Having said that, let me know offer that Leander Kahney’s article misses the point. Completely. Utterly. Totally.

In this piece, Kahney argues that Gates is perceived as a robber-baron, while Jobs is portrayed publicly as a patron of the arts, a man of the people, and a saint-in-waiting. Fair enough. But he then opines that Gates is really the one worthy of adoration, due to his massive charitable works and his outspoken positions on world hunger, education, et cetera. Jobs, on the other hand, he sees as someone who cares only about making money, giving not a fig for the common good.

This, my friends, is a load of hooey.

I’m not here to bury – nor praise – the reputations of either Messrs. Gates or Jobs. On the contrary, I wish to point out something that Kahney completely overlooks in his zeal to publicly humiliate Jobs into “giving his fair share.” My point? What is charity – and what behavior changes lives for the better?

The perception is such that if you want to get some street cred on the “caring and compassionate” front, you better cough up the Benjamins to some charity. If you simply use your wealth to improve and expand your company, you’re guilty of becoming an evil Capitalist Running Dog. Why? In Greed, a fascinating special on ABC, John Stossel asked the rhetorical question, “who did more for mankind: Catholic nun Mother Theresa, or uber-capitalist Michael Milkin?” While most people would argue that Mother Theresa did more with her public works of charity, Stossel argues that Milkin actually accomplished more for more people, as his works increased wealth (by improving the lot of his investors and by adding serious number of jobs in his companies). Milkin’s reasons may not have been as altruistic as Mother T’s, but his results improved the lives of vastly more people than did hers.

I would argue that Stossel is right, and by that count, both Gates and Jobs have done a lot for humanity. Their companies have created a lot of wealth, both here and abroad. Those companies have created, nurtured, and grown entire industries. (In fact, you can argue that Windows in and of itself is a kind of endowment plan for propeller heads everywhere.) Apple is arguably responsible for a rapid explosion of creativity in music & entertainment, as well as lowering the barriers to entry for things like making movies and music. Windows has revolutionized office work, and made possible thousands of companies whose software exists because Windows made it possible – and allowed these companies an open standard to use for development.

The Wired News article slams Jobs and sniffs that it’s about time that he belly up to the altruism bar, for he’s not paying his fair share. Bull. Both men are giving back to humanity by the very act of manufacturing wealth for themselves, their companies, their employees, and all the hundreds of thousands of people who earn a living because Apple and Microsoft created industries that hire them.

Somehow, in this country (and in much of Europe) we’ve fallen into the Altruism trap. We’ve been told that “wealth is evil” and “charity is noble.” These altruists argue that poverty is somehow noble, and only by giving away money can we make ourselves “clean,” and erase the stain of money.

As my daddy used to say, “I knew they could pile it pretty high, and pretty deep, but I never knew they could get it to talk.”

(Note to my dad: I know you didn’t actually SAY that in those words, but my literary license allows me to use a turn of phrase to make a point. Sorry.) Anyway, follow me on this point. Let’s assume for a second that the altruists have a point. (They don’t, but let’s play along for a second.) If person A is rich and therefore evil, and person B is poor and therefore noble, then in order for person A to become noble he has to give his money away. To person B. “A” becomes noble (because he’s now without money) and “B” becomes evil, because he’s got all the money.

Pardon me, but what a load of crap.

Here’s the thing. If person A has a job opening, and person B gets the job, both A and B benefit. If B does brilliant work, he gets promoted. Eventually B goes off on his own, starting his own company with the wealth he amassed while working for A. Eventually, both A and B are wealthy. They meet person C who needs a job. Because good workers are scarce, both A and B fight over C, offering better salaries and benefits. Get it? No? Let me spell it out for you. Unfettered capitalism is the best – and really the ONLY way – to improve the lot of everyone. A rising tide lifts all boats. If Gates wants to give away his money, more power to him. If Jobs wants to keep his, ditto. They made it. It’s theirs. I’m not going to judge either man for what they give – or don’t give. I’m grateful, frankly, to both for having created companies and industries that have made my life better on many levels. And I think that some hack writer at Wired could touch lives himself, if instead of slamming Steve Jobs, he might try a different approach. Like get a REAL job.

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