Steve Jobs passed away this week, protestors are occupying Wall Street and other places where business is conducted in part because they have diminished job prospects, and farmers in Alabama and Georgia claim that they are struggling in the face of recently-enacted crackdowns on illegal immigrants. I wonder if we aren’t living the (alleged) curse saying “may you live in interesting times.”

While I’m sure there will be an outpouring of criticism of Steve Jobs from opponents of intellectual property law, I think this will miss the most important point. Jobs was an innovator and entrepreneur in a fundamentally—yet still flawed—commercial society. Yes, we could have better institutions, but the institutional and cultural climate that has allowed the spectacular increases in standards of living we have seen in the last couple of centuries are recent innovations when measured against the scale of all of human history.

It was appropriate that Jobs introduced the iPad on the same day Barack Obama gave his 2010 State of the Union Address. As I wrote at the time, the announcement illustrated an important point about competition in a commercial society. His rewards? Piles of money, obviously, but also the absurd accusation from Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. that the iPad was “eliminating thousands of jobs” (I discuss it here). Presumably, one could level the same accusation at Amazon for their new line of e-readers and personal media devices.

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