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

01 Sep 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.