It was ironic to me that in the same week Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple, Gov. Martin O'Malley outlined a new definition of freedom as holding a job.
The worldview of these two men could not be more different — and the one we choose as a nation could not be more important for the future of our country.
Steve Jobs told Stanford University graduates in 2005 that "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose." That belief drives him to relentlessly pursue his own personal vision. He basically invented the personal computer; revolutionized the way we connect with one another, enjoy music and other media; gave us the amazing creativity and beauty of Pixar Animation Studios, producer of the"Toy Story" series, "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo"; and generated thousands of jobs.
His personal style has been called dictatorial, and he is known for berating and firing employees who do not meet his exacting standards. As a recent Fortune magazine piece said, "Apple also is a brutal and unforgiving place, where accountability is strictly enforced, decisions are swift, and communication is articulated clearly from the top." Mediocrity is not in his vocabulary. Excellence is everything to him.
Now to Mr. O'Malley. When he ran for governor, he told voters that he had created thousands of jobs in Baltimore as mayor, when in fact thousands had been lost during his tenure. With him as governor, Maryland ranks at the bottom of states for creating jobs. One of his friends, Marcus Brown, magically received a police pension that he did not deserve based on his time in office and is now secretary of the state police.
Mr. O'Malley frequently talks about "One Maryland," in the sense that those who generate wealth through their own creativity and vision should have it confiscated and given to (his definition of) the more deserving. That theme is also behind his "balanced approach" — aka raising taxes — to plugging the $1 billion hole in the state budget.
Mr. O'Malley's latest announcement that "A job is the root of our freedoms as Americans. … A job is freedom and freedom is a job" most clearly distinguishes the two men from one another, however.
His comments commemorated the unveiling of the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. that now graces the National Mall. He prefaced them with King's question: "What good is the right to sit at a lunch counter if one can't afford the price of a meal?"
First, to reduce King's civil rights struggle to a quest for jobs is to diminish the great man's legacy. Above all else, King fought for equality before the law for all people. He knew that a good job would not be possible without a person's innate dignity first being recognized. Besides, to say that a job is freedom is to reduce a human being to a machine that makes money, not individual hopes, dreams and qualities, the defining characteristic of a person. It also redefines the founding principle of our nation into a socialist utopian vision.
Mr. Jobs rejects that view of humanity. He said that being fired from Apple 10 years after he founded the company was the best thing that ever happened to him. It forced him to reevaluate his priorities and propelled him into one the most creative periods of his life. Post-firing, he launched NeXT, which was later bought by Apple and whose software became a key component in the company's operating system; as well as Pixar.
Obviously, not everyone has the talent and drive of Steve Jobs. Very few throughout history have ever or will. But we are rapidly turning into a society that makes it impossible for a Steve Jobs and others like him to exist. We punish and mock individual achievement and glorify entitlement — made clear by the fact that almost half of Americans pay no federal income tax. Our state public high schools regularly graduate thousands of students who are functionally illiterate and cannot add and subtract, and yet Maryland is ranked first of the states by a prestigious education journal. Our tax and regulatory system are so unfair, only those rich enough to hire lobbyists can readily compete.
Ultimately, we cannot celebrate men like Mr. Jobs and enjoy the fruits of their labors while simultaneously creating a society that does not value individual liberty, responsibility and success. Psychologists call it "cognitive dissonance" to hold two competing worldviews at once. Practically speaking, it produces what we have now: anemic growth, contempt for government, flash mobs, and a large swath of the populace that elects politicians based on how many goodies they promise. Thank you, Steve Jobs, for reminding us of who we still can be.
Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.