Steve Jobs & Industrial Policy

Steve Jobs was an important entrepreneur. An inspirational one. But let's not forget how his success was built upon something that those who extol entrepreneurs often forget. The great fruits to be borne out of active State led industrial policy. Take Apple's iPhone. Every bit of it, except the ingenious way it all comes together (extremely important of course), owes its genius not to Jobs but to the… State.

As I have argued in The Entrepreneurial State (DEMOS, 2011), the State has in fact been one of the wackiest thinkers leading to radical technological change. And the lessons for understanding Apple's success are also emphasised by The Breakthrough Institute in a recent report on Where Good Technologies Come From? "Microchips powering the iPhone owe their emergence to the U.S. military and space programs, which made up almost the entire early market for the breakthrough technology. In the 1960s, the government bought enough of the initially costly chips to drive down their price 50x in a few short years, enabling numerous new applications. The early foundation of cellular communication lies in radiotelephony capabilities advanced throughout the 20th century with support from the U.S. military. The technologies underpinning the Internet, which gives the “smart phone” its smarts, were developed and funded by the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency in the 1960s and 70s. GPS was created/deployed in 1980s/90s by the military's NAVSTAR satellite program. The multi-touch display that makes using an iPhone so intuitive has the government's fingerprints all over it. The revolutionary interface was first developed by a brilliant pair of University of Delaware researchers supported by NSF and CIA grants".

Another great lesson that Jobs teaches us is the importance of understanding interdisciplinarity. The recent UK budget cuts have saved (partially) only the STEM subjects (hard core technology and science). Apple would have never arisen from pure technology and science. Without the 'foolish' crazy minds of the creative people involved… who dared, like Jobs, to drop out of university and take calligraphy classes, it would have been just another kid on the block.

Lesson: if you save the arts, humanities and social sciences, more critical thinkers and Apples will emerge.