This past week, America lost one of the most prolific entrepreneurs of our time. A rarity is the person whose life was not in some way transformed by the creative ingenuity, keen business acumen and computer engineering genius of Steve Jobs.

To quote President Obama, “The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.”

Jobs is the embodiment of the American dream. He started a small company in his parents’ garage and, within a decade, transformed it into a multibillion-dollar corporation with thousands of employees. Steve Jobs wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he was born with a brilliant mind and a disposition toward hard work. Steve Jobs sought to channel these talents into a successful business and, in so doing, changed the way we live and, to again quote the president, “the way each of us sees the world.”

But Jobs embodies much more than the American dream. He embodies the virtues of the economic system that makes the American dream possible. This economic system is currently being affronted by growing numbers of protesters in cities across the nation. To be fair, the Occupy Wall Street movement is by no means ideologically cohesive. There are many among the farrago of protesters who don’t believe that capitalism is a failed economic system. But there are also many who do.

Capitalism generates wealth by protecting private property rights and, thereby, incentivizing the acquisition of wealth. In order to acquire wealth, people must create wealth in the form of goods and services; hence, capitalism incentivizes wealth creation, or productivity.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer. He is by constitution expensive, and needs to be rich.”

Jobs didn’t transform our society because he was a self-sacrificing altruist; like all individuals, he sought to increase his wealth and thus channeled his innate talents into profitable enterprises. The same goes for the venture capitalists who facilitated Apple Computer’s incorporation in 1977. Driven by the profit motive, these investors enabled Apple to expand and advance and become the company it is today.

This is not to say that Jobs was not charitable — or, for that matter, that the aforementioned venture capitalists were not philanthropically inclined — nor is it to say that a desire to make money was the only driving force behind his many accomplishments. It is simply to point out that the vast majority of individuals are driven to work hard and invest in entrepreneurial ventures largely by a desire to increase personal wealth, and rightly so. Were this not the not the case, Apple would not be charging upwards of $199 for an iPhone 4S, it would be giving iPhones away for free.

To quote Emerson again, “Doing well is the result of doing good. That’s what capitalism is all about.”
Steve Jobs is the quintessential example of a businessman who did well by doing good. Over the course of his lifetime, Jobs accumulated over 300 patents. In 2010 his company employed nearly 50,000 people worldwide, and in 2011 it briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil as the largest publicly traded company in the world. Through his profit-seeking, Steve Jobs generated a tremendous volume of real wealth and transformed our world in ways most people could never have imagined.

Steve Jobs reshaped industries, increased labor productivity on a global scale and cultivated economic growth from New York to Shanghai. Jobs took years of cumulative scientific research and knowledge and, using his creative genius and acute business sense as catalysts, transformed that stock of intellectual capital into tangible devices that many of us use on a daily basis. Any individual who has ever owned an iPhone, iPod, iPad or a MacBook owes a debt of gratitude to Steve Jobs. But we also owe a debt of gratitude to the capitalist economic system that made the success of Jobs possible.

As protesters flock to Wall Street, deriding the greediness of multinational corporations and the selfishness of rich folks, they ought to remember the many ways in which their lives have been enriched by corporations like Apple and rich folks like Steve Jobs. These protesters ought to remember that we do not derive utility from little green pieces of paper with pictures of old white guys on them. We derive utility from stuff, from things, from the consumer goods and services we voluntarily pay for because they add value to the quality of our lives. It is people like Jobs, people who create things, who are responsible for our nation’s wealth and high standard of living. Is it really so bad that we live in a country with an economic system that rewards them?