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Does Steve Jobs deserve criticism for his lack of public philanthropy?

by Jason on September 1st, 2011

This question was asked on Quora. Of course one person answered yes, he should give and do it publicly. Several answers said no; however, the reasons given were: he might be giving privately; he might give later; he “gives back” in other ways; and he might not be good at charity. (!) No one said that Jobs has a moral right to his money and his life. So I added this answer:

Not at all. Charity is not a moral duty—not for the rich or for anyone else. Jobs earned every penny of his fortune and he has the right to do whatever he wants with it. Moreover, he has the right to spend his precious and limited time on earth however he wants. If his health, his family, and his company are his top priorities, how can anyone tell him that he ought to care about something else more?

The idea of “giving back” to the “community” assumes that we have all taken something from this amorphous “community”. There is no such obligation. You owe gratitude and reciprocity to the people who have helped you in your life—but nothing to “the community” at large.

You may choose to help others in ways large or small, if you think they’re worthy of it, if it makes you happy to help, and if it’s worth your time and money. But if you don’t so choose, you haven’t deprived anyone of anything that was their right. And if you do so choose, those you help are the lucky recipients of your generosity, and they owe you gratitude.

To criticize Jobs in particular is a terrible injustice. This man has achieved more in the last ten years alone than most people dream of achieving in a lifetime. Not only has he led the creation of some the best consumer devices of our time, he has inspired millions with his achievement. He has shown the world how beautiful products can be and how much we can enjoy using them. And he is an exemplar of living one’s life with integrity and passion. After all that, no one has grounds to criticize him for anything, let alone how he spends his own money.

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  1. My website isn’t up yet, but it’s getting close. You gave an excellent response to the question. First of all pointing out that no one said that Jobs has a moral right to his money and his life. Now that’s spoken like a true Objectivist.
    I guess I’d been waiting all my life to find the logic of Objectivism. My mentor was an excellent teacher. He’s gone now, and I miss having him around for discussions. I live in a city of about 38,000 in mid-America, and Objectivists are scarce here.

  2. John permalink

    I do think it’s nonsense to expect people to make true sacrifices that deprive them of doing what will make their lives the best they can be, and it’s also bad for a society to use this kind of moralizing and judgmental emotional blackmail on people, even the dead, people should be ready to earn the things they want.

    On the other hand I do think there’s wisdom in donating to charities that will make society better for oneself to live in, regardless of one’s personal feelings about gifting for the sake of it. For example one could use superfluous money to fund local programs for kids that might prevent them from growing up and doing things such as stealing one’s stuff or selling drugs to one’s kids. So I sometimes disparage the “hoarders”, not just because I want their stuff, which is rather ignoble, but also because their money could likely be doing better things for them than accumulating.

    But who knows for sure? I’m not judging Steve, just making suggestions to wealthy folks.

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