In a speech at the University of Chicago today, a day before Illinois holds the GOP's latest high-profile presidential primary, Mitt Romney the Republican front runner for his party’s nomination said “Obama’s assault on our economic freedom would have stifled the famous inventors like Steve Jobs and the Wright Brothers.” Is this really true, half truths, lies, or merely campaign rhetoric?
Steve Jobs was adopted by loving parents and raised in Mountain View, California. His early years growing up were average; however, he exhibited interest in electronics at an early age. His father would show his son how to take apart and reconstruct electronics, a hobby which instilled confidence, tenacity, and mechanical prowess in young Jobs. The economics of the 1970s do not appear to have suppressed his interest in electronics or his father’s willingness to spend time with his son.
While still in high school, he spent his free time at the local Hewlett-Packard where he met computer club guru Steve Wozniak. The two developed a friendship and would later form one the most famous partnerships in the computer industry. Here it appears that thanks to the association with the computer club and Hewlett-Packard’s willingness to allow interested high school students on their premises, the ground work for Mr. Jobs’ future was being formed.
Funding for education is mostly financed by governments, but it can be enhanced by the public sector with innovative partnerships with the private sector like the one formed between the high school in Mountain View and HP. This was fertile soil for Mr. Jobs’ enthusiasm to be nurtured.
Jobs attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon but dropped out after six months. In 1974 he took a position as a video game designer with Atari, but left that as well and traveled to India seeking spiritual enlightenment. He returned in 1976 and connected his friend Wozniak and Apple Computers was born. They funded their business initially by Jobs selling his VW bus and Wozniak his scientific calculator. By 1980 Apple Computers were publically traded company with market value of $1.2 billion on their first day of trading.
There does not appear to be any connection or stifling of “economic freedom” that would have affected Steve Jobs’ life path. If anything, probably his father’s early nurturing of his son’s interest had the most impact. Perhaps his spiritual enlightenment influenced his decision to make computers user-friendly and affordable for everyone, which is a wonderful example of social democracy.
The Wright Brothers
Wilbur and Orville Wright recall growing up: "The Wright house provided an excellent setting for the children's intellectual and creative development." Orville wrote of his childhood: "We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity."
Wilbur was born in 1867 and his brother Orville in 1871 in Dayton, Ohio. Their father was a minister and a avid reader believing in education for all his children. Bishop Wright organized debates among his children and had them defend their arguments and then had to change sides and defend the other side. They had two libraries in their home that included books on theology and the other library had a large, diverse collection. The Wright brothers credit their reading as playing a major role in their interest in flight.
Recognizing their interest in flight at an early age, in 1878, when Orville and Wilbur were ages 7 and 11, their father brought them a toy "helicopter." It was based on an invention by French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Penaud.
The Civil War ended in 1865, so apparently Reconstruction which affected the North as well did not adversely affect the Wright brothers growing interest in flight. Although, a prolonged illness did effect Wilbur for approximately four years, but he regained health and entered into business with his brother.
Together they designed and built a printing press and began publishing a weekly paper. From these proceeds they opened a bicycle shop and in 1896 starting manufacturing their own brand. They were influenced greatly by the work of German Otto Lilienthal’s pioneering work that proved manned flight was possible. With renewed interest, the two brothers gathered all they could in documentation and reading whatever they could find in order to design their own flying machine.
Their printing business and bicycle shop financed their experiments in kites, gliders, and even built a wind tunnel to test wing design. The Wright Brothers developed the first effective airplane and made their historic flight in 1903.
Both Steve Jobs and the Wright Brothers were among the greatest inventors of the 20th century. Their inventions changed the way we live today and will continue doing so far into the future as their inventions evolve and change. Young inventors will learn from those who went before them and continue to create in the 21st century—with the help of loving parents.
They had parents that nurtured their intellect early in their lives and provided them with a home that encouraged self development of interests and skills. “Stifled economic freedom” as described by Mitt Romney had no influence on the trajectory of their lives. These were great individuals and the economy of their times had little to do with their native intelligence, curiosity or their entrepreneurship.
Romney’s attempt to create a distance between himself and President Obama in economic policy is not working with examples like this that can be so easily repudiated.
Economic freedom means a person has a job, a place to live, food on the table, enough money to take care of their children and the knowledge that whoever is sitting in the White House has their back, not the back of special interests and corporations with tax loopholes.
Romney didn't offer specifics or solutions in his speech for how he'd change things.