Wired on Steve and Bill's Social Status

In a somewhat bizarre article, Wired's Leander Kahney is confused by the fact that Steve Jobs receives more cultural admiration than Bill Gates considering Gates gives away lots and lots of money. He's just thinking too hard about it.

Listen, it's not exactly rocket science. In the grand scheme of things, giving away $29 billion dollars to charity is world-changingly fantastic (although it's easier to do when you are worth $51 billion). At that amount, I don't think it even matters if it turns out the donations are largely for PR reasons. But admiration comes in many forms for many reasons.

The bulk of people that line up at a concert are not there because of the lives that the band members lead when they're off stage. They're showing up because they like the music. This is a different kind of admiration than one has for a charitable organization.

Steve Jobs exists as a icon of sorts because his companies have had a long-term impact on people on a creative level. Apple is significant because it works to advance the state of the art, even when this leads to the path of most resistance. This earns respect. In a similar way, Pixar has advanced the state of the art in film production, setting a new standard for emotional appeal along the way.

These are not the same as founding a charitable organization in one's name, but they're not meant to be. In reality, Apple may be one of the few large technology companies with a culture that doesn't take itself or the industry far too seriously. Who else would personify a microprocessor in a television ad or design a login dialog that shakes its head when you mistype a password? It's this side of Apple that is often just out of view of mainstream journalists and the typical technology worker.

Bill Gates's PR problems in the technology industry come from foisting low-quality products on an unsuspecting public. No clear-thinking, healthy person will confuse these misdeeds with the issues of the human race. In the same sense, no sane individual will directly compare the merits of Pixar to that of the One Campaign.

That said, when you have to use a frustrating piece of software for at least eight hours a day, it does have an impact on your quality of your work life. There's no reason to ignore that just because the company's co-founder donates money. You'll still go to work the next day. More to the point, Microsoft can't and shouldn't earn credit for what the Gates Foundation does.

The author finishes up the article by suggesting Jobs should speak up on social issues. This strikes me as a very personal decision, not one that should be made to please journalists.
Design Element
Wired on Steve and Bill's Social Status
Posted Jan 25, 2006 — 35 comments below


Mickey — Jan 25, 06 688

Right on. I didn't much care for that article in Weird either.

Steve — Jan 25, 06 689

That was balls-out the weirdest and decidedly creepy article I have read in a long while, I'm glad someone takes it to task.

I'm not even sure what the author's point is. Gates is good because he flaunts his charitibility? Jobs is bad because he doesn't?

Nate — Jan 25, 06 690

I feel like you're not getting the point of the article -- I agree with you that Kahney's confusion at Jobs' icon status is unfounded, but he was using it as context around his larger point about Jobs' lack of public philanthropy.

I agree with the article in its criticism of Jobs -- I don't think it's a private matter that people are amassing fortunes so far beyond their means; there is far too much need out there for the super-rich (be they professional athletes, movie stars, producers, or captains of industry) to continue the concentration of wealth. If he's engaging in these issues anonymously, then great. If not... Well, I have issues with Paris Hilton, too.

Ravi — Jan 25, 06 691

I gave up on Wired a long time ago...

Steve — Jan 25, 06 692

Nate- well that's just it. Kahney doesn't know whether Jobs is charitable or not. So all he has left is criticizing Jobs for, well, not giving the appearance that he's charitable?

Maybe he donate millions of dollars anonymously, or maybe he shoots kittens. We don't know. An article forming this opinion without any factual groundwork is not only pointless, but vapid speculation.

Scott Stevenson — Jan 25, 06 693 Scotty the Leopard

Nate said: but he was using it as context around his larger point about Jobs' lack of public philanthropy

My feeling is that choosing to become publically active in social issues is a personal decision, and should not be the result of pressure from a writer employed by Wired.

Outside of the context of this specific piece, I'm a bit skeptical about articles that are designed to be so cutting. Authors know when they're pushing buttons, especially with Apple. Some do it because they legitimately care about the issue, others (hopefully, far fewer) do it for clicks.

I don't have any reason at all to believe Kahney is in the second category, it's just something that's always in the back of my mind.

I don't think it's a private matter that people are amassing fortunes so far beyond their means

If total wealth is your concern, I'd think Bill Gates would be your target with more money than Jobs by an order of magnitude or so.

Tim — Jan 25, 06 694

I think Scott has hit the essence of the issue perfectly. Wired has no idea how Steve J donates in his private life.

It's true that there's a value in adding PR value to your donations -- I'm not going to fault Bill G for getting ink with his donations because that gets people thinking about helping with Africa themselves. But private giving is worthy of respect and I'm sure Jobs does give back -- certainly more than Mr Kahney.

And its also true that Jobs contributes far more in his day job than Gates by bringing excellence into the computer universe.

The thing that's bothersome about the Wired article is that its showing a trend -- edgy, hip journalists making the choice to get personal and even attack someone because that person is a cultural icon. It's like a literary version of a paparazzi. Pick the right target and your article gets way more traction.

What gives a journalist the right to judge another person's approach to charity -- especially since Kahney has no idea what Jobs does privately. It's totally bogus.

These kinds of lame attacks are especially bad for the Web. To me the standard should always be, would I say this to someone I know in real life. I hope Mr Kahney would tone things down a bit if he knew Steve Jobs personally.

Personal attack pieces, grossly one-sided articles, name calling blogs, email flames -- it cheapens the Internet and makes people think they don't need to take responsibility for their own actions. So a thoughtful piece like this one is a nice relief.

Andy — Jan 25, 06 695

I also was surprised at the article. Who gets to decide what another person is "supposed" to do with their money. I applaud any person who can help others be it with their money, time or knowledge, but to say that someone has to help others is ridiculous. Just because someone has goobs of money doesn't mean they are obligated to give it away. One needs to give with their heart and soul not with press releases or because others do. The article seemed that it wasn't based on actual facts as much as it was someones opinion. Which is ok, just state that in the article.

mbaudis — Jan 25, 06 696

well, apart from everything else (and i think billionaires have some left overs): the reliance of the us social "system"on gifts is creepy and kind of medieval - why should education need private sponsors at all??? there are certainly countries, with better education than the us, that do without ...
it is a bit more complex with international project support; but there, any billion ut of somebodies pockets is "peanuts" compared to government money spent on "peace and stabilization missions" - in iraq and elsewhere.
so, maybe some 10000 from the jobs family towards the democrats may matter, in the end, more than m$ billions ...

Muntzx — Jan 25, 06 697

Another issue that isn't really voiced in the article is where Steve Jobs' wealth is located. It's located in the companies he runs. Now, it may seem like a ton of loot to you or I, but I've been around long enough to know that if Microsoft wants to take a shot at you, you'd better have some money in the bank. Let's not forget that Apple's user base is only around 5% (less?)

Michael — Jan 26, 06 699

Leander Kahney puts the "cult" in "Cult of Mac." For a long time I have felt that he has amplified insignificant topics for Wired that wouldn't get any traction around the watercooler. I agree that his analysis is off base and creepy.

patrick — Jan 26, 06 700

It's an exercise in futility trying to judge from public appearances who is the 'better' person, Jobs or Gates. They both strike me as about as friendly as you can expect from a successful business man. The interesting question, I think, is why Jobs is perceived to be better person, by some people.

Why is it that when Jobs has his company's home page changed (free) to alleviate a temporary set-back in New Orleans (and generate goodwill for Apple in the process) he earns widespread applause. And why is it that when Gates uses his own money (billions) to help solve long term, hard problems, everybody yawns? Now this would make for an interesting article...

James Gowan — Jan 26, 06 701

I think the fact that Bill Gates was announced as a TIME "Person of the Year" and made the cover standing next to Bono and sharing the honor with his wife, Melinda AND having the words THE GOOD SAMARITANS underneath his picture shows pretty dramatically how America is feeling about Gates, giving him better-than-rock-star status. Hell, Bono IS a rock star and this honor says there's something better than being treated like a rock god.

James Gowan — Jan 26, 06 702

One more thing...

If there are still people who have a problem with Gates (money-giving or no) it's for the simple fact that he makes billions of dollars and millions of PC users still deal with virus and bugs by the trillions. Who's going to be happy with that? Jobs "gets it" and he gets it right most of the time.

Abbi Vakil — Jan 26, 06 703

This is silly and soooo subjective! You don't judge who is a better person based on how much money they give away. We're all better than some despot dictator in Africa that donated millions to charity to buy his way into heaven-- please!! I would argue w you that a schoolteacher who volunteers with the United Way on weekends is just as good, if not better, than a person who gives away half their wealth but still keeps $30b for themselves! What's the big deal in doing that?! I can't think of anyone who wouldn't do the same given the same situation! Frankly, it's not about the money, it's about the time and we have no idea exactly how Bill G and Steve J spend their time. Just be thankful each is doing their part and let someone far more omnipotent than us mere mortals figure out who was better.

Anon — Jan 26, 06 704

I think ultimately, people see Steve as a Saviour. Why? He saved the Mac. He gave us back the company that we loved and saw dying under some God-awful CEOs, hell-bent on destroying it. There was one computer that seemed to working right most of the time and there were millions that weren't and just when it seemed like we'd all have to give up our little-computer-that-could and head over to Windows95™, Jobs stepped back into the picture and saved us, the Mac Faithful. He started by giving us the iMac and OS X. What an entrance.

Then he started saving Music. He (and his talented team) has single-handedly given the vast majority of the world's music buyers a real place to go to enjoy buying music legally and helped to pour almost a billion dollars back into the music industry.

He saved the portable music player. Nothing worked and then... the iPod. He gave us "a thousand songs in your pocket". Four years later, it's "15,000 songs in your pocket... oh and pictures... oh and tv shows and movies and music videos". We love Steve because he cares enough to do things RIGHT. Bottomline, the Bottomline with Steve is NOT the Bottomline. The Bottomline has always been to bring something simple yet something great to all of us. With the iPod, even the PC users get to enjoy. And if he's making some money along the way, fine. He's earned it. He's giving quality goods and service for our hard-earned money. What else do we want as consumers anyway?

That's the Mac Faithful Image of Steve these days.

About his giving... which was the real rub against Leander Kahney. Consider this...

"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." - Jesus from Matthew 6:2-3 (NIV)

When one considers that Steve's not on the Cover of Time as Person of the Year for his giving, a person could assume it's because he just doesn't give at all. That he's a greedy, corporate power-hungry mogel.

Or one could give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it might be because he has a little conviction and humility about his giving.

Don't assume the worst, even when you don't hear the trumpet blasts. They're not always what they seem.

Anon — Jan 26, 06 705

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

Drew — Jan 26, 06 706

James - right on. I saw Gates on Time magazine; I hardly think he's suffering from a lack of public respect. What he and his wife are doing with the Gates Foundation is truly amazing.

But what Kahney's not considering here is that charitable giving is just one of many ways to "give back." Creating opportunities for self-sufficiency is another. Jobs built a company that employs a lot of people, and his growing field of products allow other companies to make new products (Bose, anyone?); those companies employ people, and so on. Offering someone a job is better than offering them a handout.

Anon — Jan 26, 06 707

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

Muntz — Jan 26, 06 708

Jebus. What happened to the conversation?

Dave Henderson — Jan 26, 06 709

I remember reading an article in the late 90s about how few of the movers and shakers of the tech world, esp. in Silicon Valley, were involved philanthropically. In fact, if one were to exam Gates' philanthropy and charitable giving, one would discover that Gates only became seriously active philanthropically at the height of the anti-trust litigation against Microsoft; furthermore, one would also notice that that time period is also when Gates became politically active and involved. Initially, he focused on courting legislators to see things his way with regard to Microsoft and its monopoly. Gates has over time broadened his activism for which I think he deserves a great deal of credit and goodwill.

Kettil — Jan 26, 06 710

My personal view is that we all are equipped with the same potential for intelligence. Most people might do an effort to direct this toward any specific goal, but these goals differ. I feel that while Steve has done a tremendous effort at making good products, Gates does not share the same goal. A person with that much resources would use them better if that were the case. It is quite obvious to me that money does not come from nothing. Money accumulates through choices made consciously or not so consciously by large amounts of people. While Jobs has appealed to people looking for quality, Gates has simply gone for the masses of people just looking for a computer. Sure there have been visionaries in the windows world, but it does not surprise me that the desire to innovate emerges in a static world. The mac spirit survives through Jobs' vision, clearer and clearer to behold, and his awareness of our innate desire for great control over our own lives. This is Apple's spirit, and it goes back an infinitely long time.

iain — Jan 26, 06 711

Surely if a *fair* system of taxation - in which someone worth £3+ billion would be paying 80% of income in tax (the case in the UK until about 15 yrs ago) - and the government was using this income in a socially responsible way, the issue of how much Jobs gives to charity would be a non-issue.

iain — Jan 26, 06 712

Surely if a *fair* system of taxation - in which someone worth £3+ billion would be paying 80% of income in tax (the case in the UK until about 15 yrs ago) - and the government was using this income in a socially responsible way, the issue of how much Jobs gives to charity would be a non-issue.

Mickey — Jan 26, 06 713

Steve Jobs saved my life.

It's 2006 and I'm still using a Mac. Right now I couldn't care less how much he gives or doesn't give to charity. He's given a lot to ME.

Besides, any Joe who's taken an economics course knows that Bono & Gates aren't making a dent in solving any long-term problems. I'd be afraid to think they might be making it worse, but so far I haven't seen them do anything.

By all means, invest in failing school systems. Fund social infrastructure projects in countries that are engaged in civil war. Just don't stop throwing money at the problem. Throw as much money as you can at it.

Whoever throws more wins!

Michael — Jan 27, 06 714

Perhaps Jobs doesn't like public ego stroking.
Or maybe he hates charity, nobody really knows.

Jon H — Jan 28, 06 725

I think the key thing is that Jobs' wealth has been primarily paper wealth, tied up in Pixar. Pixar is the reason Jobs became a billionaire at all, and I'm not aware of him ever selling blocks of his Pixar stock.

Gates, on the other hand, has for years had a program of regular sales of large blocks of his Microsoft stock. He's much more diversified. And he was able to give large blocks of stock to his foundation.

If Kahney wants to look for stingy billionaires, he'd be better off looking at Larry Ellison, Paul Allen, Warren Buffet, Michael Dell, and Steve Ballmer. They have more money than Jobs, and no greater profile in charitable giving.

Come to think of it, maybe the difference between Jobs and Gates comes down to two things: the order-of-magnitude difference in wealth, and Gates' affluent family history.

Jon H — Jan 28, 06 726

If you look at Yahoo finance's records of insider trades, you'll see that in the last two years, Gates has frequently sold blocks of two million MSFT shares. Jobs hasn't sold any stock in Pixar in that time.

David H Dennis — Jan 28, 06 727

For some reason, I've always been pretty negative towards charity. Maybe it's because when I was younger, I saw how poor people actually lived, and it was a lot closer to the cliche of a guy handing his last buck to the liquor store clerk for a Night Train than the poor but honest family shivering in the cold, begging for their next meal.

So if someone makes a product I like, I'd rather have the money go to them than to charity. If Bill Gates wants to help poor countries, why doesn't he give away his software in Asia and China instead of sending goon squads to Internet cafes to arrest the poor but dishonest about software licensing? They're marginal operations that make so pathetically little they couldn't afford software licenses, but Bill doesn't care. You eliminate them and you eliminate the access to technology for poor people Bill says he wants people to have.

I hope his guys find a cure for AIDS - or at least that someone does - but I'm not inclined to praise him to the skies until we actually see if his giving away of money actually does some good somewhere. I've noticed that whether in government or the private sector, money that's given away is wasted most of the time.

I'd rather someone concentrate on making a great product than giving away his money, because it's the great products - and, unfortunately, the awful ones like Windows - that really affect people's lives. AIDS kills thousands; Windows makes virtually every man, woman and child on the planet just a little more miserable. It's tough to make any kind of moral equivalency in this case, but certainly I'm not going to forgive Bill Gates for creating the abomination that is Windows no matter what he does.


Jon H — Jan 29, 06 728

Another thing is that Jobs owns 51% of Pixar, and probably hasn't wanted to sell any stock because that would entail a loss of control.

Gates owns about a billion shares of Microsoft, which is about 9% of the shares. While he's the largest shareholder, he doesn't have an overwhelming percentage, as is the case with Jobs. He could be outvoted by Ballmer and a couple of institutional investors, who each have about half as many shares as Gates.

And anyway, because there are so many shares of Microsoft outstanding, Gates can sell millions and millions of shares without really denting his standing. That's not really the case for Jobs, since Pixar is much smaller and has far fewer shares outstanding.

Anyway, the point is that Jobs' wealth hasn't been very liquid because he's had it tied up in Pixar with an intention to maintain control. I'd bet that despite his paper wealth, he probably has the liquid assets (and the lifestyle) of someone well short of a billionaire. It's probably more like a $300 millionaire. Rock star level, not globe-striding colossus level.

So it should be no wonder that he doesn't give money away like Gates - in liquid assets terms, he's probably one hundredth as wealthy.

Matt — Jan 30, 06 733

Perhaps it's just that Steve Jobs doesn't have a guilty conscience about the money he's made. He's made it by working hard, and driving the odd hard bargain.

Unlike Bill Gates who heads a company that's appropriated most of it's products, leans on anyone who tries to offer or buy an alternative to the Microsoft hedgemony, including attempting to bully whole governments.

You know the whole illegal monopoly thing.

Lee — Jan 31, 06 735

Windows is worse than AIDS? It's better to pocket billions from a shiny audio player than to give billions to a charitable foundation trying to fight poverty and disease?

Some of you people have your priorities completely out of whack. Seriously, get help, because if you can't separate your dislike for a software platform from the real problems of the world, there's something wrong with you.

Scott Stevenson — Jan 31, 06 736 Scotty the Leopard

Windows is worse than AIDS?

With one possible borderline exception, I don't believe any of the comments here suggested that.

Jake — Apr 18, 06 1109

Lee, maybe you should check out a little something called TRIPS. Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights rules of the World Trade Organization. This make ole Billy boy billions along with the pharmaceutical companies and he is right in lock step with at preventing African governments from getting far cheaper AIDS medicine. In business if you save 1 million and lose 20 million that is a net loss of 19 million and that is a conservative estimate of lifes affected in Africa.

ivey duke — Jun 30, 06 1428

You know i see a lot of people hurting out there sick and even dying from cancer every day.My wife works with people every week and she feels sad for them,she worries about strangers all the time.A lot of these people are young and there are older people too.My own mother has had brest cancer and also kidney cancer,she just came out of the hospital they think she has cancer in the brain,I will know that in the next few weeks i hope they are wrong. I would love to do something nice for her at least make the rest of her life confortable but it takes money to do that.It would be nice if some money was donated to some people out there that realy need help.29 billion dollars i cant even imagine that it takes what a thousand million for 1 billion dollars.That would make a thousand million aires just think that could help 1000 people to help the sick at there own homes there own family or even others they know.people like me and others cant even help our own loved ones because lack of funds.If i were to take everything i own and will ever own and had every penny saved i would never even be a millionaire and there are people all over america like that.It seems that if money was donated in that amount it could be spread out to help the sick enjoy what few days they have left,and the homeless people which i am taking care of two at this time. cancer,aids,copd,heart blockage,starving people here in the U.S. The fortunate out there i am happy for you.But most i have met are very greedy people and if they lived to be 10,000 years old they couldnt spend there money.Anyway i would like to thank you for your donation and would like to let you know that god will see what you have done. And you are one in a billion with passion thank you.I dont know anyone with aids but i thank you for the people who do and i hope that some day people like you will help people with cancer.And the poor ,hungry,heart and kidney ailments.THANKS AGAIN YOUR REAL!!!!


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