The Wrong Way to Use Steve Jobs's Legacy

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Steve Jobs is dead tonight, at the age of 56. The vast majority of the Internet is using the night to honor his legacy as a transformative genius on par with Edison and Henry Ford, as it should be. National Review used his death as an opportunity to slip in a takedown of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

"I was down at the Occupy Wall Street protest today, and never has the divide between the iPhone world and the politics world been so clear," Kevin Williamson writes. Oh, dear:

I saw a bunch of people very well-served by their computers and telephones (very often Apple products) but undeniably shortchanged by our government-run cartel education system. And the tragedy for them -- and for us -- is that they will spend their energy trying to expand the sphere of the ineffective, hidebound, rent-seeking, unproductive political world, giving the Barney Franks and Tom DeLays an even stronger whip hand over the Steve Jobses and Henry Fords. And they -- and we -- will be poorer for it.

This is a strenuous bit of shoehorning. On the emotional merits: Americans literally love Jobs' creations, and it's not strange to mourn someone who built you something you love.

On the policy merits: It's not as though we have to choose between the middle class and new things. And it's not as though asking for a smart, active government is inconsistent with an innovation policy. Steve Jobs' inspiration for the personal computer came from Xerox PARC, a Palo Alto research lab that got its founding investment from government-supported universities like Washington University and Stanford University and continues to contract with state and federal governments. Fusty Washington was behind cutting-edge breakthroughs, from the Internet to the mass production of microchips.

The argument that high marginal taxes that protesters demand will inevitably destroy creativity is, in fact, undermined by Steve Jobs' remarkable story. When Jobs founded Apple in 1976, the top marginal tax rate was 70 percent. When Bill Gates founded Microsoft, it was also 70 percent. The world's richest company and the world's second richest man both got their start when the top marginal rate was twice as high as today.

What am I saying, that we should raise marginal taxes to 70 percent because that's the level where genius happens? No. In fact, I think it's more accurate to say that effective tax rates at the top have a less-than-expected impact on innovation and job creation. Even if that's wrong, a simpler and more progressive tax system would be better for innovators and better for the middle class. More domestic investment in R&D and infrastructure would be better for entrepreneurs and the people they hire when they ramp up their companies. Smarter banking regulations is designed to mitigate the violence of downswings, which should increase confidence in the next generation of geniuses. The Occupy Wall Street movement is protesting middle class problems. Here are some solutions that don't disgrace the legacy of the nation's greatest investors. Let's not make this a false choice between Jobs and jobs.



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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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