Wonkbook: 'Death is very likely the single best invention of life.’

at 06:36 AM ET, 10/06/2011

On Wednesday, Apple Inc. announced that Steve Jobs had died. Jobs was arguably the most important businessman of his generation, and almost certainly of the last decade, and so I'm going to go ahead and call this a policy story. But I won't bore you with my thoughts on Apple, or even on Jobs. Rather, I want to republish some of Jobs thoughts, which I promise won't bore you at all.


In this Jan. 6, 2004 file photo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs displays the iPod mini at the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. Jobs, the Apple founder and former CEO who invented and masterfully marketed ever-sleeker gadgets that transformed everyday technology, died Wednesday. He was 56. (Marcio Jose Sanchez - AP)
Six years ago, Jobs gave the commencement speech at Stanford. In it, he talked about a previous brush with death. He said it convinced him that "Death is very likely the single best invention of life." The full speech can be read here, or watched here. What follows is an excerpt.

"About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

"I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

"This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

For more on how Jobs thought and worked, this is the single best article I've ever read on the man and his habits of mind.

Top Stories

1) Democrats are fiddling with their definition of "rich", reports Lori Montgomery: "As they head into the 2012 campaign, Democrats are changing their definition of what it means to be rich. Forget about families making $250,000 a year. Today, the party is only interested in millionaires. In speeches across the country, President Obama has vigorously demanded that 'millionaires and billionaires' pay 'their fair share' in taxes. Last month, the White House said tax reform should ensure that billionaires such as Warren Buffett pay at least as much of their income to the Internal Revenue Service as middle-class taxpayers do. And on Wednesday came clear evidence of this shift: Senate Democratic leaders scrapped Obama’s proposal to cover the cost of his jobs bill by raising taxes on income over $250,000 a year, the old Democratic standard for defining the wealthy. Instead, they are proposing a 5.6 percent surtax on annual income of more than $1 million."

2) Germany has pledged to back a continent-wide bank bailout, report Michael Birnbaum and Howard Schenider: "Germany has begun to throw its weight behind measures to guard Europe’s financial system from a possible Greek or other government debt default, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that she would support a continent-wide plan to pump more capital into banks if they need aid. Merkel’s comments add momentum to an effort urged by U.S., International Monetary Fund and other officials for Europe to ensure that its banking system can survive if Greece needs to restructure its $300 billion in outstanding bonds. Once considered unthinkable, that possibility -- a sovereign default inside a major world currency zone -- is now a central facet of the planning among European and IMF officials, who are trying to both keep Greece afloat and buffer the broader regional economy against the chance that they may not succeed."

3) Mitch McConnell says the China currency bill is dead in the water, reports Manu Raju: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted Wednesday night that a bipartisan bill cracking down on Chinese currency policies is 'probably not going anywhere,' an assertion that raises fresh doubts about the prospects of the populist-tinged proposal. The Senate is slated to hold a key procedural vote Thursday morning to break a filibuster, and sponsors of the proposal had predicted that it would easily exceed the necessary 60 votes. But Republicans have grown furious that Democratic leaders have prevented their amendments from being considered, and senior Republican aides were uncertain Wednesday night whether GOP senators would prevent the plan from advancing over their procedural concerns."

4) "Occupy Wall Street" just keeps growing, report Shannon Bond and Matt Kennard: "Thousands of people, including representatives of several trade unions, marched through the streets of lower Manhattan on Wednesday in an escalation of the 'Occupy Wall Street' demonstrations that began last month. A police spokesman declined to estimate the size of the crowd, but one policeman at the scene said about 10,000 people had gathered outside the federal courthouse in Foley Square. Occupy Wall Street organisers put the figure closer to 15,000. Union leaders and community organisers spoke over loudspeakers to criticise what they called Wall Street’s impunity and the US government’s intimate relationship with corporate America, before leading demonstrators on a march to Wall Street later in the evening...Helicopters hovered in the sky above the park, while the New York Police Department used metal barricades to direct the heavy flow of pedestrian traffic."

Top Op-eds

1) The top 1% really are pulling away, writes Annie Lowrey: "The 99 percent don’t have 99 percent of anything, money-wise, in the United States. But just how bad is the skew toward the top 1 percent? Let’s start with income--the money you make from things like wages, salary, interest payments, and collected rent. According to an analysis (XLS) of Internal Revenue Service data by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, the 99 percent account for 79 percent of income in 2008, with the top 1 percent taking the other 21 percent...The 1 percent has been eating a bigger and bigger share of the pie over time. Back in the 1970s, the 99 percent were earning about 90 percent of income, for instance. The top 1 percent of households took a bigger share of overall income in 2007 than they did at any time since 1928...The 99 percent’s fortunes look even worse if you focus on wealth, rather than income."

2) Campaign finance reform is a dead end, writes Matthew Yglesias: "The disappointing experience of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance effort (of which this magazine was always, and rightly, skeptical) should remind us that it’s extraordinarily difficult to get money out of politics in a manner consistent with freedom of association and expression....Arizona, a state that’s adopted an admirable clean-elections campaign-finance law, is hardly free from special-interest influence. Instead, the combination of low-paid, part-time legislators with term limits and meager staff resources (in the Arizona House, some members get a half-time secretary) makes members dangerously dependent on the 'legislative subsidy' that savvy lobbyists can provide...Better ethics rules at all levels should be paired with efforts to professionalize legislative and staff work and provide better pay. Stronger leadership and tighter party discipline, though often bemoaned, also tend to reduce interest--group power relative to ideological agendas."

3) CEOs need to earn the public's respect, writes Ezra Klein: "At a medical-innovation conference in Cleveland this week, I heard chief executive officers complain about being treated like 'criminals,' about profit being regarded as intrinsically suspicious, about the president saying unkind things about oil companies, about exemplars of hard work and success being viewed as greedy rather than productive. Like Rodney Dangerfield, the rich may be making money, but what they really want is respect...The self-pitying, self-righteous tone of these complaints misses the big picture, and makes the underlying problem worse: The rest of America doesn’t trust corporate America right now. The rich have been getting fabulously richer, corporate America is sitting on trillions in cash reserves, and where has that gotten the rest of the country? A shabby, jobless recovery in the early Aughts, followed by a credit bubble, followed by a crash in which ordinary Americans had to bail out Wall Street, followed by the worst economy in generations."

4) Elizabeth Warren gets the social contract all wrong, writes George Will: "Warren says: 'There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there -- good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces.'...Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda. Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize -- i.e., conscript -- whatever portion it considers its share."

Street performance interlude: Jeff Mangum performs Neutral Milk Hotel songs for "Occupy Wall Street" protestors.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come: The IMF is open to buying European government bonds; it's unclear what a Supreme Court ruling against the individual mandate would mean for the rest of health reform; House Democrats want to investigate Clarence Thomas; environmentalists are suing to block the Keystone pipeline; and a little girl rocks out to Nicki Minaj.

Economy

The IMF says it's open to buying European bonds, report Riva Frymovich and Marcus Walker: "New initiatives emerged Wednesday as part of efforts to quell Europe's twin sovereign-debt and banking crises...A senior International Monetary Fund official said the IMF could step in to help shore up the bonds of troubled euro-zone governments...The idea for the IMF to step into the bond markets--probably via a separate legal vehicle created especially for the purpose--would address the other leg of the crisis: the risk of more countries facing financing problems because of rising borrowing costs. It would complement a plan by euro-zone governments to allow the euro-zone's bailout fund to buy government bonds. The head of the IMF's Europe department, Antonio Borges, who announced the idea in Brussels, said it could prevent the crisis from worsening in countries such as Spain and Italy."

China's locked the renminbi's value in place, reports Simon Rabinovitch: "Just as the chances have risen in the US for the passage of a bill that would penalise China for currency intervention, Beijing has put the brakes on renminbi appreciation, raising the spectre of a bitter dispute between the world’s two biggest economies. But some analysts in China are putting a more positive gloss on the halt in appreciation. Recent history suggests that it could mean Beijing is turning a corner towards an easier monetary policy that would support Chinese growth and the global economy, they say. The last time Beijing locked the renminbi in place against the dollar was August 2008, about three months before it launched a Rmb4,000bn stimulus programme that proved crucial to the Chinese economic recovery and the world."

Income inequality's bad for growth, reports Josh Harkinson: "Corporate chieftains often claim that fixing the US economy requires signing new free trade deals, lowering government debt, and attracting lots of foreign investment. But a major new study has found that those things matter less than an economic driver that CEOs hate talking about: equality. 'Countries where income was more equally distributed tended to have longer growth spells,' says economist Andrew Berg, whose study appears in the current issue of Finance & Development, the quarterly magazine of the International Monetary Fund. Comparing six major economic variables across the world's economies, Berg found that equality of incomes was the most important factor in preventing a major downturn."

A House panel's moving forward on trade pacts, reports Felicia Sonmez: "Three long-stalled trade pacts with Colombia, South Korea and Panama took a key step closer to passage Wednesday as members of the House Ways and Means Committee voted overwhelmingly to approve the deals. 'Today has been five years in the making and could not come at a better time for American workers, consumers and businesses,' House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in a statement...The panel approved the South Korea deal - the largest of the three - on a 31-to-5 vote. The Panama pact passed the committee on a 32-to-3 vote, and the Colombia pact passed on a vote of 24 to 12. Opponents of the deals -- principally liberal Democrats and organized labor -- argue that the trade agreements would lead to job losses; they also say that Colombia has not done enough to address anti-union violence."

Free trade is important to national security, writes Tom Donilon: "On Monday, President Obama submitted three critical free trade agreements to Congress and asked both chambers to advance them expeditiously. Passage of these agreements is a matter not just of economic and commercial opportunity but also of national security. With the passage of the agreements, the United States will signal our commitment to strengthening bilateral relations with our ally South Korea and our partners Colombia and Panama, to revitalizing our export sector, and to enhancing our economic strength in key markets. Our power and influence in the world is directly tied to our economic strength, and the agreements will help enhance domestic prosperity while bolstering our position globally. The agreements are demonstrations of American strength and resolve."

Infographic interlude: Alanis Morissette's "Ironic," in chart form.

Health Care

It's unclear what would happen to the rest of health reform if the individual mandate is struck down, reports Jennifer Haberkorn: "While the impending Supreme Court debate over President Barack Obama’s health law is steeped in politics, a ruling striking down a piece of the health care law would have significant policy implications, too. If the mandate is struck the justices would have to decide how much of the law would have to come down with it -- a complicated calculus at the intersection of law and health policy...The law’s opponents -- including the 26 states and National Federation of Independent Business, which filed the suit that the Supreme Court could review this year -- say the mandate is so integral to the legislation that if it is struck, the whole law should fall with it. At the other end of the spectrum, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the mandate could come out of the law by itself."

Ending the employer health deduction won't contain health costs, reports Sarah Kliff: "It’s a rare area of bipartisan agreement in the divisive U.S. health policy debate: One good way to fix things, right now, would be to change or end the tax exemption for employer-sponsored health insurance. It would, indeed, be a way to raise revenue. But a new study calls into question whether it would actually contain health-care spending...The paper sorts the employer-sponsored insurance subscribers into three categories. There are those who spend a lot...There are those who spend very little...And then, there’s the middle...The Urban Institute paper argues that the third group is the only real place to find savings...The problem here, though, is that this group is whittled down to a relatively small part of the population: 22 million Americans."

Domestic Policy

House Democrats want an investigation of Clarence Thomas, reports Seung Min Kim: "Dozens of House Democrats are calling for an investigation into potential conflict-of-interest issues involving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. As the Supreme Court begins its fall session, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and some of their colleagues are asking the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on alleged ethical violations and raising questions on whether the justice can be impartial. Among their charges against Thomas: that the justice failed to report at least $1.6 million that his wife, Ginni, had earned since 1997; that he might have failed to report gifts from rich supporters; and that he inappropriately solicited donations for favored non-profits, according to their letter sent to Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.)."

The FCC is overhauling its telephone subsidies, reports Kim Hart: "The Federal Communications Commission’s plans to revamp a program with nearly $4.5 billion in annual telephone subsidies could bring some changes to phone bills -- and consumer advocates and lawmakers are watching closely. In a speech on Thursday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski plans to cast his vision for overhauling the complicated system, after months of heavy lobbying from all sides of the telecom industry. The plan is expected to revamp the Universal Service Fund, which consumers support as part of their monthly phone bills to help offset the costs of bringing phone networks to hard-to-reach areas. But the outdated program only supports basic phone service and the FCC wants that money to go toward building new broadband and wireless networks to meet the demands of developing technologies."

Women's groups and unions are targeting Wal-Mart, reports Ylan Mui: "Several prominent women’s groups joined with organized labor Wednesday to call on Wal-Mart to improve pay for its female workers after the U.S. Supreme Court banned employees from moving forward with a class-action lawsuit alleging sex discrimination. The groups, which include the National Organization for Women, said that the retailer -- the country’s largest private-sector employer -- should review its pay scale to ensure that women are being compensated fairly and that managers are not discriminating against female employees. They also called on the company to establish a scheduling system that helps women juggling work and family commitments...Wal-Mart, however, called the effort a 'publicity stunt' and said more than half of the hourly workers promoted over the past year were women."

Unions are throwing themselves into "Occupy Wall Street," reports Andy Kroll: "Big Labor is going to work: endorsing the protests, offering manpower and resources, and helping stage a major march in New York City's financial district on Wednesday. They are adding organizing muscle, fresh energy, and greater numbers to the boisterous demonstrations that began in downtown Manhattan more than two weeks ago. Among those now jumping in is the New York State United Teachers, the Empire State's largest union, representing 600,000 educators...It has gone beyond just rhetoric. The unions are sending food, busing members down to the protests, and even educating and strategizing with various participants of Occupy Wall Street...Unlike this winter's protests in Wisconsin, where unions played a central organizational role, union officials say they're not trying to co-opt Occupy Wall Street. They say that they want to help without getting in the way."

Adorable kids sing the darndest top 40 hits interlude: A little girl sings "Super Bass" by Nicki Minaj.

Energy

Environmental groups are suing to block the Keystone pipeline, reports Ben Geman: "Environmental groups allege in a new lawsuit that the Obama administration has illegally allowed preliminary work on the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to begin, even though the controversial project has not been granted final approval. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Nebraska Resources Council and Friends of the Earth are suing the State Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday. The lawsuit is part of a wider political and legal battle over TransCanada Corp.’s proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline to bring crude from Alberta’s oil sands projects to Gulf Coast refineries. The groups said that State and the Fish and Wildlife Service are allowing TransCanada to clear a portion of the pipeline route in Nebraska."

The administration was poised to give Solyndra another loan as recently as last year, report Carol Leonnig and Joe Stephens: "Newly released e-mails show the Obama administration’s Energy Department was poised to give Solyndra a second taxpayer loan of $469 million last year, even as the company’s financial situation grew increasingly dire. The department was still considering providing the second loan guarantee to the solar-panel manufacturer in April and May 2010, at a time when Solyndra’s auditors were already warning that the company was in danger of collapsing. Details of the plan are revealed in e-mails released this week by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating the original loan. On Wednesday, the probe intensified as committee Republicans requested that the White House provide all documents...that would show communications between staff members and other officials regarding Solyndra’s original $535 million federal loan guarantee."

Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams.

 
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