Yes, Steve Jobs got rich in the past decade. But he didn't so at the expense of his shareholders. In fact, they grew rich along with him. And Apple didn't prosper at the expense of partners. The walled-garden approach of iTunes and the Apps store goes went against the grain of the notion that everything online should be free. But it was, at root, a courageous act. And it served as a kind of affirmation for content producers. And perhaps that's why he got such good press.
Several industries in the past decade found themselves essentially powerless in the face of the internet and the advent of digital technology. But Jobs and Apple invented devices and business models that encouraged people to pay: for music, for television shows and movies, for books, and for applications. By continuing to roll out new products, Apple has really expanded the playing field for content creators. It's much more compelling to watch a movie on an iPad than it is on an iPod.
The highest form of charity is helping somebody find a job or a means to support themselves. Just so, one might argue that the highest form of business is creating a profitable enterprise that allows and encourages other people to innovate and find means to support themselves. Apple has done that time and again. Yes, the publishing and music industries have griped over payment terms. But Apple is allowing individuals and companies to reach truly massive audiences at a relatively low cost. It has rescued some markets, revived others, and created entirely new ones.
This century is only a decade old. But it's a safe bet that in 2099, when analysts and historians are looking back, Steve Jobs will be remembered as one of the giants of 21st century business.
Daniel Gross is economics editor at Yahoo! Finance