Originally written: March 28, 2011
What do Disney, Apple, and Google have in common with the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security? According to a recent WSJ poll, all rank in the top ten among places recent graduates would like to work. It’s where our best and brightest will be employed.
Thus some of our best and our brightest, as in a prior generation, seem eager to go into bureaucracies dedicated to running and controlling people’s lives. In his famous 1973 book, titled The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam used that term to describe the group of whiz kids around Kennedy and LBJ. Their efforts gave us the Vietnam War. And now that Google and Apple have made multitasking easier, McNamara’s descendents have given us 3 wars to fight simultaneously.
The bright people at Apple and Google are different in many ways from the bright people in government service. The former typically make more money. The latter typically have more power. The former can be picked out by their pocket protectors, real or metaphorical. The latter can be picked out by their guns, real or metaphorical.
Those running Apple, Google, and similar companies make our lives better by enhancing our choices, letting us better decide how best to run our own lives. Those running the CIA, FBI, TSA, and those in government they serve, make our lives worse by restricting our choices, prohibiting us from deciding how best to run our lives.
It is said no one is so stupid they cannot run their own life, and no one is so smart they can run everyone else’s. Perhaps this is why those running Google, Apple, and similar businesses so often amaze us, and those running various government agencies, no matter how smart they are, so often disappoint us.
Our best and brightest working at the CIA, FBI, and TSA have counterparts in North Korea. We know our public servants are here to protect us, while those working in North Korea are there to oppress them. Meanwhile, North Koreans know their public servants are there to protect them, while those working in America are here to oppress us. Foolish, foolish North Koreans… Meanwhile, our best and brightest working for Google, Apple, and Disney…they have no North Korean counterparts. From Google co-founder Sergey Brin, born in Russia, to Jonathan Ive, a key Apple designer born in England, they are uniquely American.
The first set of geniuses serves us—gives us iPods and iPads, free search engines, and the Lion King. The second set of geniuses rules us—gives us indefinite detention and Guantanamo Bay; prohibited water bottles on flight and whole body searches; Waco and Ruby Ridge. The ugly irony consists of what we call the latter group: Public servants.