Steve Jobs’ Yacht and the Price of Inequality

Dutch blog One More Thing has photos of Steve Jobs’ mega-yacht, designed by Phillipe Starck and only completed posthumously. It’s a valuable reminder of the best argument for reducing economic inequality.

Jobs is a good case for this precisely because he’s widely acknowledged to be a good businessman. He didn’t get rich running some kind of scam or exploiting regulatory arbitrage. From the Apple II to Pixar to the iPhone, Jobs made money by ushering into existence things that people wanted even more than they wanted money. It’s a great story of entrepreneurship and capitalism. And yet at the end of the day what you have is an enormous boat with six iMacs on board. The absurdity of these watercraft and the fact that there’s clearly a large positional element to the race to acquire them (the goal is to have the awesomest yacht in the marina not necessary to meet any absolute standard of yachtness) shows that beyond a certain point it becomes extremely difficult to transform additional money into additional happiness.

As Brad DeLong writes “The time and energy and work devoted to making, toasting and serving a $40 bagel at the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street in Manhattan would, in a more equal America, buy a full dinner for four at Sizzler Steakhouse for a family to whom going to Sizzler is a once-a-month treat - and thereby produce more human happiness.”

By the same token, one man’s super-yacht could have been more spacious accommodations for a dozen regular families.