Rich people aren’t like the rest of us

They’re worse. I don’t know whether the process of getting rich warps them, or only damaged people commit to getting rich.

Take Steve Jobs. We peons knew him as the intense guy in a turtleneck who’d come on stage twice a year to announce the latest cool expensive gadget from his company, but he also had a daughter, sort of. He was a reluctant father who seemed to accept his responsibilities grudgingly, and appeared to actively resent her. And now she has written a revealing book about what it was like to grow up with a cold, aloof father.

Preceding this excerpt, she’d heard that he was so rich that he’d trade in his shiny black Porsche if it got so much as a scratch.

For a long time I hoped that if I played one role, my father would take the corresponding role. I would be the beloved daughter; he would be the indulgent father. I decided that if I acted like other daughters did, he would join in the lark. We’d pretend together, and in pretending we’d make it real. If I had observed him as he was, or admitted to myself what I saw, I would have known that he would not do this, and that a game of pretend would disgust him.

Later that year, I would stay overnight at my father’s house on several Wednesdays while my mother took college classes in San Francisco. On those nights, we ate dinner, took a hot tub outside, and watched old movies. During the car rides to his house, he didn’t talk.

“Can I have it when you’re done?”I asked him one night, as we took a left at the leaning, crumbling white pillars that flanked the thin, bumpy road ending at his gate. I’d been thinking about it for a while but had only just built up the courage to ask.

“Can you have what?” he said.

“This car. Your Porsche.” I wondered where he put the extras. I pictured them in a shiny black line at the back of his land.

“Absolutely not,” he said in such a sour, biting way that I knew I’d made a mistake. I understood that perhaps it wasn’t true, the myth of the scratch: maybe he didn’t buy new ones. By that time I knew he was not generous with money, or food, or words; the idea of the Porsches had seemed like one glorious exception.

I wished I could take it back. We pulled up to the house and he turned off the engine. Before I made a move to get out he turned to face me.

“You’re not getting anything,” he said. “You understand? Nothing. You’re getting nothing.” Did he mean about the car, something else, bigger? I didn’t know. His voice hurt—sharp, in my chest.

If any of my children had asked anything like that (they’d have to ask for a beat-up old Honda instead of a Porsche), that is not the answer I would have given.

“Yes. You can have it. You can have everything. You’re getting it all — I’d give you the world if I could.”

That’s how human beings answer that kind of question.

It’s sad that Lisa Brennan-Jobs did not experience that, growing up.


  1. Ichthyic says

    Yeesh. I never liked Jobs, never understood the apple fanboydom (why the hell not just buy whatever works best at the best price… and that is NEVER Apple), but I never knew he was in private such an utter asshat.

  2. gijoel says

    It doesn’t surprise me. He was infamous for his callousness, and never gave a penny to charity.

    As a child of a man so selfish he couldn’t even share his feelings, I feel for you Lisa.

  3. Dunc says

    I don’t know whether the process of getting rich warps them, or only damaged people commit to getting rich.

    These options are not mutually exclusive. It seems very likely to me that both are true: only damaged people commit to getting rich, and then the process warps them even more. It’s a psychologically maladaptive behaviour, which then sets up a self-sustaining feedback loop.

  4. mastmaker says

    Contrast that with Bill Gates who – for years during the peak of Microsoft’s power – drove an old Escort. He also seems to have given up the reins of the company for good (unlike how Apple had to be pried from ‘genius’s ‘cold dead hands’) and engaging in large scale charity without much fuss.
    There ARE some good rich fellas. But most are certainly A-grade assholes.

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re Jobs:
    I remember a rumor of how Jobs refused to mount a license plate on his pristine Porsche. When cited, he’d simply pay the fine nolo contendro and never mount the plate.
    The conflict between Jobs and Woz was pretty clear to all techies. Woz being the wizard of technology he built into the Mac, with Jobs the showy marketer of thingy.
    Woz is till the antithesis of Jobs, a rich guy who has put his wealth to good use and not personal gain only.

  6. Curt Sampson says

    Jobs’ nature was pretty clear from the start. His first commercial project with Wozniak was the design of Breakout; Wozniak did all the work and he and Jobs evenly split the $750 fee. There was also a $5000 bonus for a design with less than 50 chips (something few people other than Woz were capable of doing); Jobs quietly kept that entire amount.

  7. lotharloo says

    Meh. So her privileged daughter is not getting millions or billions of USD for winning the genetic lottery. I’m sorry but I cannot find anything in me to feel bad for her, except for lacking a real father figure who cares in her life but even in this case, I’m sure the almost absentee father provided materially well for her.

    I personally think that the only class of people worse than insanely rich are those who have acquired their wealth through inheritance. I think the highest tax bracket should be something like 99+% that is reserved for people who are about to inherit billions of dollars but it’s not going to happen because the rich own the system.

  8. says

    You do realize that the whole point of this story isn’t about how much money Lisa Brennan-Jobs was getting, don’t you?

  9. Matt G says

    Conservatives talk about the meritocracy, but then want to get rid of inheritance taxes, taxes which are on money people didn’t earn. Go figure. What happened to the land of opportunity, where anyone can get ahead if they work hard enough?

  10. Phrenomythic Productions says

    There’s some research that confirms that power (including riches) actually does corrupt people -generally speaking- and it takes a fair amount of discipline and humility to avoid the trappings. Berkeley psychologist Dr. Dacher Keltner has apparently looked into this issue and I should get me his book one day. So that is probably why so many of the rich and powerful are so callous.

    With regards to Steve Jobs, as far as I know, he was conflicted individual to begin with. Something about that he was sad that he was adopted, so he felt rejected by his own parents. I guess he chose to perpetuate this tragic legacy himself, instead of breaking it. Perhaps that’s what success and money can do to a person. Never mind the others around you…

    I just don’t get it still. We’re bending over backwards to try to secure a good life for our children and an important part of that is instilling a sense of self-worth in them. That’s not computer science and it goes without saying.

  11. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I avoided Apple for a long time, specifically out of hatred of Jobs. Without fully considering the products themselves. Purely a spiteful resentment at how he overshadowed the contributions of Woz, as “just the guy who hacks the hardware together, but I make it sell by sprucing it into how I like it”.
    I did finally relent to buy the iPod-mini (back in the early ’90s) after trying other 1st gen MP3 players.
    This sucked me into the Apple sphere, having latched onto the iPhone for my “mobile”, and last year gave my spouse an iPad for a gift, as she wants to be online, and has zero tech ability.
    I still resent the fog Woz has vanished into, and feel conflicted about how Apple has become the first company to achieve a value of $1 trillion. ($ 10^12)
    sheesh. gee whiz.

  12. Gregory Greenwood says

    Matt G @ 9;

    Conservatives talk about the meritocracy, but then want to get rid of inheritance taxes, taxes which are on money people didn’t earn. Go figure. What happened to the land of opportunity, where anyone can get ahead if they work hard enough?

    What happened to it is that it never existed in the first place. The much lauded ‘American Dream’ is in strong contention for the second biggest lie in history, coming in right after that perennial winner among manipulative tall tales, god. The only way for the few to become obscenely rich is if the majority exist in relative poverty. Conservatives worship at the altar of supposed ‘meritocracy’ because in their minds it justifies the grotesque material excesses of the most obscenely wealthy among their (mostly White, male, middle aged, hetero and cis-sexual) number as nothing more than proof of moral and intellectual superiority. If they can argue that society is somehow a level playing field, and only the best – the most dedicated, the hardest working, the smartest – get rich in that meritocracy, then by implication those who have extreme wealth, wealth enough to garner the power to rig the system according to their own interests, deserve both that money and that power, since their wealth is supposedly simply a tangible expression of their ‘superiority’ to the common run of humanity. They ‘won the game’ by dint of their own efforts, and to the victor go the spoils…

    Of course, all but the most truly deluded of their number know that this is a con. Many of the most wealthy inherited the core of their wealth, and from then on out relied on the fact that in our economic system of markets and capital great wealth tends to attract more wealth with minimal input from the person who possesses that wealth. Any serious attempt at inheritance tax would blow their claims of meritocracy clear out of the water, and leave Junior in the unbearable situation of having to live in the real world with the rest of us grubby mortals, surely an unconscionable fate worse than death itself..

    Others among the hyper rich did accrue their own wealth, but rarely through honest means. Some straightforwardly stole it, while the more intelligent among them exploited loopholes in the law to observe the letter of the law while flaunting its spirit, acting in a grossly unethical fashion but in such a way that it never technically rises to the level of illegality. Either way, such people are in need of a sanitising rationale to cleanse their money of its figurative (and in some cases probably literal) blood stains, and the myth of the virtuous rich, ascended by their superior merit to the mount Olympus of prosperity, serves that purpose nicely. While an inheritance tax may not effect them directly since it is not how they garnered their wealth, it undermines the whole notion of our society as a meritocracy, which they need to act as a fig leaf for how they really got ahead.

    That Jobs was a terrible father and a self absorbed egomaniac is not in the least surprising to me, but because he was rich, there will be legions of apologists quick to write off any criticism of him, since if they must admit that he is a titan with feet of clay, then the whole edifice of lies about ‘meritocracy’ starts to look that bit more shaky.

  13. lotharloo says

    First, I get the point of the story. Steve Jobs never cared for his kids so the right thing to do was not to have kids. But I don’t know anything about his personal life so maybe his partner wanted to have kids, I don’t know. Being a single parent is hard, very hard but that’s for normal people not for people who have billions.

    Second, stories like this still suck time, attention, and sympathy away from less privileged, and the less fortunate. She is still at the center of story. It is still about how miserable this aspect of her life was. Let us all hold a moment of silence for all the rich kids neglected by their workaholic fathers, growing up without the fear of ever going hungry, eying that Porsche, or the private jets or trying to schedule a birthday party featuring Justin Beiber, Bieber, whatever.

    Go fuck yourself.

  14. says

    @#1, Ichthyic
    It’s always interesting to me that anti-Apple people always claim Apple’s stuff is so terrible, but they absolutely can’t wait to rip off Apple’s ideas. Somehow the act of taking something Apple made and making a cheap knockoff cleanses the inferiority. Windows was not only a blatant ripoff of the Mac by inferior programmers which exploited Jobs’ legal naivité but in later versions Microsoft has admitted that Windows is still just ripping off ideas. Or there’s Android, which was tech demoed as a featureless camera OS until Schmidt, a member of both the Apple and Google boards at the time who had sworn up and down that there was no conflict of interest, got to see the initial secret iPhone tech demo to the board, went back to Google, and had them rework it into a smartphone OS which copied the iPhone as closely as he could remember. Or there’s the hardware, which PC users can’t hate enough, except that the high-end market in PC hardware ends up being wannabe-Macs at higher prices than Macs — to the extent that people like Linus Torvalds use Apple hardware for their personal stuff.

    Really, what you hate isn’t Apple, it’s the fact that Apple doesn’t participate in the race to the bottom by trying to cut prices the way PC makers did. That has always been the only explanation which actually fits the anti-Apple crowd — and, if you’ll notice, the PC makers who compete on price, who presumably you want Apple to emulate, keep driving each other out of business. Dell is the only surviving US PC company from the 1990s, and their finances have been rocky repeatedly — only by abandoning many of their original selling points and becoming a US face to PCs which are completely designed and assembled from bottom-of-the-barrel factories in the third world have they managed to survive. “But what about Foxconn?!1!” is the usual retort — which ignores the fact that all the computer makers available in the west either use Foxconn’s Chinese factories or even worse exploitation in the third world; Apple’s product lines are actually the better-paying ones for Foxconn workers, and at least some of the accusations are outright lies.

  15. logicalcat says

    I remember an interview with Kevin O’Leary, the billionaire of shark tank fame, talking about Steve Jobs. Apparently even to other cold and greedy billionaires he is an absolute terrible person.

  16. Derek Vandivere says

    #16 / Vicar:

    Well, thanks for telling me what I really think, I guess? Apple hasn’t really invented much technology (there were MP3 players before it, and you could make a claim that they ripped off PARC research), but they are admittedly great at design and marketing.

    The reason I dislike Apple is that they insist on keeping their ecosystem a walled garden, their products aren’t interoperable, and they aren’t particularly user-serviceable. Plus, as the Apple OS has gotten more complex over the years (I used to have an SE/30, for context) that any usability benefit is pretty much out the window.

    And yeah, of course the Windows / Linux / Android markets are much more fragmented, because it’s not one entity that owns the entire stack. I think that makes for a better economic model (for example, each year they seem to advertise iPhone features that have been available on Android for months).

  17. Derek Vandivere says

    #15 / lotharoo: Try not urinating in your breakfast cereal every morning; you might end up in a better mood.

    I reject your assertion that empathy is a zero-sum game.

  18. petesh says

    Jobs was certainly an asshole to his first daughter, and I think her mother, but I don’t recall anyone talking much about his other children, for better or worse. The OP is misleading in that regard. IIRC, he had three daughters and one son. I don’t know how he was with the others.

  19. mastmaker says

    @Vicar #16, that’s the most apple-slave post I have encountered in years. Windows is not a rip-off of Apple. Windows implemented protected memory stuff way before Apple did. Windows was always a chassis on frame (excuse me, software on hardware) while Apple is a unibody. World doesn’t run around Apple, you know?

    And I am a guy who got so upset with Microsoft tactics in recent years that I moved wholesale to Linux.

    But Apple is an evil corporation and I will not buy their products. I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and I get to hear all the horror stories from employees of Apple vendors and partners.

  20. lotharloo says

    @cysyajads mf

    Why do you constantly do this?

    I don’t know what exactly PZ means but for me it basically means something like this:

    The richest 10% of people produce half of Earth’s climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10%, British charity Oxfam said in a report released Wednesday.

    So yes, objectively speaking, being rich puts you among the class of the people who are contributing to the destruction of the environment which is likely to lead to dire consequences for hundreds of millions of not so rich people.

  21. Reginald Selkirk says

    https://abcnews.go.comWhy Steve Jobs Never Had License Plates on His Car

    It turns out there’s a provision in California regulations that give one six months to get license plates for a new car, and Jobs took advantage of it. Yes, he leased a silver Mercedes SL55 AMG, said Callas — and every six months he traded it in for a new one.
    “At no time would he ever be in a car as old as six months; and thus there was no legal requirement to have the number plates fitted,” writes Heath.

  22. chrislawson says


    I admire what Bill Gates has done with his post-Microsoft life, but you can’t really call him a good guy given the unethical practices he pursued while in charge of Microsoft.

  23. chrislawson says


    The Android company had already developed and put to market its own internet-connected smartphone way back in 2002. Google acquired Android in 2005 for the specific purpose of developing a smartphone ecosystem to prevent Microsoft dominating the sector and using its clout to push users away from Google’s search engine. Jobs first started thinking about a touchscreen smartphone in 2005 and brought the first iPhone to market in 2007. When Apple launched the iPhone, Google/Android had been working on a Blackberry-style smartphone; they realised immediately that they should have been working on a touchscreen-based system and went back and heavily redesigned the OS.

    Sure I’m happy to give Apple and Jobs the credit for designing a really cool touchscreen phone that revolutionised the market, but it’s not correct to claim that Android was merely a camera OS firm before Google bought it and converted it into a smartphone team, nor is there good reason to think Google used secret insider Apple knowledge to develop Android given they had to redesign heavily after the iPhone launch.

  24. Matt says

    “Yes. You can have it. You can have everything. You’re getting it all — I’d give you the world if I could.”

    That’s how human beings answer that kind of question.

    I’m not sure that giving your children everything they ask for is a sign of parental empathy or competence. What a weird lesson to take from this story.

    #13: Because to become rich — including Bill Gates — requires a self-evident degree of selfishness and greed.

    Does it? This is also an odd statement. What about inherited wealth? What about lottery winners? I’m not sure what the implication is: that you have to be a bad person to acquire wealth? (Belied by people who acquire it through luck.) Or that if you keep your wealth, you’re a bad person. Bill Gates is in the process of giving away 99.9% of his wealth to philanthropic causes. I just don’t think you can make a simple formulation: rich=bad. The problems with wealth (and they are legion) manifest mostly at the societal level: political corruption and who policy serves and the excesses of capitalism and unnecessary poverty and safety net shredding and etc.

  25. albz says

    …and yet, I think that the best thing a billion-rich father could do for the good of her daughter would be exactly this: “You will have nothing from me”. Obviously if we speak about money, not love.
    (I’m speaking in general here. I don’t know how Jobs was, how his daughter is, or anything in the middle).

  26. Susan Montgomery says

    I’ma take a wild guess and say that PZ just had a grant application rejected…

    Seriously, I’m in the “Who gives a fuck about some poor little rich kid” camp. I’ll save my sympathy for the little girl whose father loves her but can’t afford food for the next 3 days.

    And while I’m at it, I’m also in the “Gee isn’t it ironic that people are bashing Gates and Jobs while on Windows- or Mac-based devices” camp. I’m a connoisseur of irony and this is vintage ;)

  27. says


    FFS, it’s showing the kind of greed and scumbaggery you get at that kind of economic tier, not sympathy. If that human garbo couldn’t show any consideration to his daughter, what of the rest of us? It’s not the best metric, but it still says a lot.

  28. Susan Montgomery says

    @33 I really don’t give a shit about what they do or don’t do to the rest of us. Again, we’re having this conversation largely because of this jerkbag – largely due to the tech Apple and Microsoft put on the market, that is – so I’m rather hard-put to complain that he wasn’t a granola-munching hippie.

  29. wzrd1 says

    And while I’m at it, I’m also in the “Gee isn’t it ironic that people are bashing Gates and Jobs while on Windows- or Mac-based devices” camp.

    Well, one commenter stated that Linux was the individual’s OS of choice. As it is for all of my computers.
    That said, I do like Apple hardware on their pro end. I loathe its price, as it’s far more coYou donttstly than competitor’s similar units (and slightly less powerful in the highest Xeon processor driven end).

    As for the man, it is indeed true, the sheer volume of stories of his behavior lends credibility to her story.
    That said, I’d have turned her down, for one reason. You don’t give a Porche to a kid, you give them a starter car to wreck and hopefully not get killed in. After two years of no accidents, we’ll discuss what new car she’d be getting.
    Give a kid a muscle car, bury the kid inside of a year.

    Circling back to hardware, I had initially used low end hardware and paid the performance penalties involved in doing so. Now, I run my OS of choice on high end hardware. Not Alienware kind of high end, just higher memory capabilities, more reliable hardware and decent processing power. At work, I’m stuck with Windows 10 and frankly, it’s keeping me more than busy enough keeping it working. More overtime for me, even if it’s straight time, rather than time and a half. On the server side, we range from real Unix, Linux, Windows server and mainframes.
    At home, we’re on HP ProBook and Dell Precision notebooks, with a Dell PowerEdge server that’s a bit old, but more than capable for my needs. I’ll need to either build up an iSCSI array unit or SAN (not fond of most NAS devices, their performance underwhems me), with a similar unit to back up to. That would be run on power, once we get a place (we’re in a hotel saving up for a rental), I’ll see about solar, augmented by wind.

  30. gijoel says

    @ lotharloo I do every day.

    Again I reiterate, don’t have children. You seem completely unable to empathize with others. Every word written by Lisa Brennan-Jobs screamed pain and abandonment. If he had been a half decent human been this article would never have been written. It was just as well Jobs help found a very successful company, because he would have been unemployable otherwise.

    Stop trying to make out she had a wonderful life cause her dad had money. She didn’t and if you had RTFA you would know that too.

  31. Ichthyic says

    It’s always interesting to me that anti-Apple people always claim Apple’s stuff is so terrible, but they absolutely can’t wait to rip off Apple’s ideas.

    it’s always interesting to me that people like you both lie about the reality (Apple actually has stolen plenty of tech itself, and you’d know this if you paid attention to any of the myriad court cases), AND strawman people like myself, who literally said: “why the hell not just buy whatever works best at the best price… and that is NEVER Apple” nearly constantly.

    you’re an incredibly dishonest git, and always have been.

  32. joeeggen says


    I really don’t give a shit about what they do or don’t do to the rest of us. Again, we’re having this conversation largely because of this jerkbag – largely due to the tech Apple and Microsoft put on the market, that is – so I’m rather hard-put to complain that he wasn’t a granola-munching hippie.

    So, by that logic, we should never criticize anybody that has made some positive contribution to society? I can’t say “Steve Jobs was a horrible miser, terrible boss, and worse father” since I use a Mac? If I invented some popular gizmo, would I be immune to having you criticize this post?

  33. unclefrogy says

    I have a similar opinion of the wealthy and the more privileged among us as PZ has stated in 27. I have yet to hear any reason that they should be necessary or beneficial to human civilization or advancement at all.
    I also have some questions about patents and monopoly rights. I wonder where we would be if all discoveries were handled in a similar way. The idea now seems to be make a discovery or develop a new way of doing something and then restrict the use of it in order to become rich. That seems to retard development, because it is about the money without access to enough you do not survive and with a sizable surplus you can obtain luxuries.
    it is probably a good thing that science in general has not followed that model very strictly .
    I just find it troubling and wonder if there might be some other way that we could do things.
    uncle frogy

  34. Derek Vandivere says

    Except the article right before this one (on the Ark Encounter numbers) in the feed still misattributes the reference to Forbes, and not Fortune. So there!