Apple’s Steve Jobs Lacks the Philanthropic Pedigree of His High-Tech Billionaire Peers but May Be Doing Just as Much Good

August 29, 2011; Source: New York Times | Many of the tech geniuses who made billions from Microsoft, Google, Intel, Facebook and so many others have turned into young but generous philanthropists. But apparently not Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Jobs is worth an estimated $8.3 billion, but he hasn’t joined Bill Gates and others to sign the billionaires’ giving pledge, nor does he call attention to his personal giving. Does he even do any major charitable giving? No one can say for sure. There are rumors about some anonymous donations, but no real confirmations. His wife is on the boards of Teach for America and the New Schools Venture Fund, which may indicate some significant gifts from the Jobs family to those organizations, but there has been no acknowledgement by TFA or NSVF of any such donations.

Built into the lionization of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for their philanthropic commitments is a subtle, unstated criticism of Jobs for choosing a different path. Perhaps Jobs is like Buffett himself, who hardly even thought about philanthropic giving until a few years ago, when he put billions into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Or maybe Jobs believes that the maximum social good he can give society is the continuing success of Apple Inc. Maybe he quietly agrees with the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who says business leaders should help solve social problems, but not fight poverty through charity. Perhaps that explains Jobs’ decision to end Apple’s corporate philanthropy program in 1997—ostensibly due to the corporation’s then-precarious profitability—and then leave it shut down even as Apple began raking in multi-billion dollar profits ($14 billion last year alone).

Is there anything wrong with the possibility that Jobs might turn out to be more focused on the social good he can do via Apple than on a project of recrafting himself as a philanthropist? Has our nation gone a little overboard in celebrating the other billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge?—Rick Cohen