It would be easy to say that Occupy Wall Street’s grief over Jobs’s death is a sign of the movement’s hypocrisy. In their first official statement, didn’t the protesters say that they stand with people “who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world”? And aren’t they demonstrating against the “1 percent” of the population to which Jobs belonged?
But the protesters’ affection for Jobs isn’t necessarily a sign of bad faith or ignorance. Rather, it could be a healthy discernment, however poorly articulated. The point is not that Jobs was “this different, quiet billionaire,” as one protester put it, but that he lived by the rules through which free-market capitalism should work. When Apple released a product that people rejected, such as the Apple III or the Lisa in the early eighties, the company suffered the consequences. Apple could not expect tens of billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury or from the Federal Reserve to save it from its own mistakes. Apple was not too big to fail. Before the iPod, the company was struggling. Apple had to make itself too good to fail—and that’s exactly what it did.
Contrast the capitalist world in which Jobs lived with “capitalism,” as the U.S. government has applied it to the big banks against which the Zuccotti Park crowd is—imperfectly—protesting. If you’re a bank or an insurance firm, and you create a product that your investors and your regulators can’t understand in a crisis, you aren’t punished, as Apple was when it released products too complex for its customers. Instead, you get rewarded with bailout money.