I woke up in Turkey at 4:00 a.m. Thursday, went to my computer, and found out that Steve Jobs had died. I titled this post as I did because "insanely great" was the term Jobs loved to use to discuss Apple's products. The lives of virtually everyone reading this post are better because of Steve Jobs.
He was an incredible entrepreneur who not only knew how to start a company but also how to keep coming up with new "insanely great" products as the company matured. If you want to see Jobs at his young impish best, watch this 5-minute video of his introduction of the Apple Macintosh when he was only 28 years old.
Steve Jobs's career was an extreme illustration of Friedrich Hayek's point about people using their own "local knowledge" to make good economic decisions. Imagine how Jobs would have fared if he had born in the Soviet Union. Or, closer to home, there are probably a few people who are the equivalent of Steve Jobs or, at least, one quarter of a Steve Jobs, who could develop "insanely great" or, at least, great drugs. But they have to get the permission of the Food and Drug Administration to sell such drugs. So imagine that Steve Jobs had had to get a federal agency's permission to sell the Mac, or the iPod, or the iPhone, or the iPad, or, or, or. We might not have had these things or, if we did, we would have had them much later--and they probably would have been much more expensive.
Steve Jobs made all our lives better. He and other entrepreneurs are a key part of why a truly free-market economy works so well for so many of us. And here's the appalling fact about how economics is taught today: most economics textbooks have no mention, or only a slight mention, of the entrepreneur. What's the ideal form of competition, according to most textbooks? Well, if it's perfect, it's got to be ideal, right? So what is perfect competition? Everyone produces the same thing, no one innovates, no one advertises, if one competitor drops out, no one will notice. In short, perfect competition is boring.
One last point and it relates to Bryan Caplan's point about the value of a college degree. Thank goodness Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college.