Michael Knowles: Tim Cook gives terrible advice to graduates

During Tulane University’s recent commencement ceremony, Apple CEO Tim Cook confessed to the graduating class that “in some important ways, my generation has failed you.” He’s right, but for all the wrong reasons.

Cook told the students he regrets that his generation “spent too much time debating” – a strange lament in a democratic republic. How does Cook wish his generation had behaved?

“We’ve been too focused on the fight and not focused enough on progress,” he said, referring to the issue of climate change.


Our nation’s deliberative processes might suffice for trivial political questions, but when it comes to important issues like climate change – or global warming, or global cooling, or whichever pseudo-scientific term the politicians parrot this week – Cook seems to believe we must suspend our nation’s system of self-government in favor of whichever policy progressives deem necessary.

Cook’s anti-democratic tone struck a sharp contrast with the advice that his predecessor Steve Jobs offered to graduating students at Stanford in 2005.

“Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking,” Jobs explained. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

In 1997, the recently rehired Jobs rebranded Apple with the slogan “think different.” Two decades later, his successor advised students to think the same.

“Human civilization began when we realized that we could do more together,” recalled Cook, for whom doing “more” means growing the government. “It’s worked before,” he insisted. “In 1932, the American economy was in a free-fall …. Franklin Roosevelt refused to wait. He challenged the status quo and called for action.”

Indeed, Roosevelt did. As UCLA economists Harold Cole and Lee Ohanian demonstrated in a four-year-long study, FDR’s actions likely prolonged the Great Depression by a full seven years.

Cook’s grasp of ancient history proved no better than his understanding of the 1930s. Contrary to the CEO’s account, the historical record shows that private property – not collectivism – marks the beginning of civilization.

Primitive tribes tend to hold property in common. Only the security of private property and profit offers individuals the incentive to build.

Steve Jobs knew this lesson well. According to his biographer Walter Isaacson, Jobs cautioned then-President Barack Obama against the sorts of taxes and regulations Cook now advocates.

Jobs warned that Obama might be “headed for a one-term presidency” thanks to the “regulations and unnecessary costs” stifling America’s economy and education system, which he predicted would never improve “until teachers’ unions were broken.”

By the end of his speech, Cook took to fear-mongering. The “threats and danger” have become too great. We must stifle debate and give the government room to grow if we hope to stop the disasters “that seem to be happening more and more frequently,” he said.

Jobs took a different tack in his address. He encouraged students to cast away their fears.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” Jobs explained. “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”


You can’t save the world. You can’t even save yourself. So “there is no reason not to follow your heart,” Jobs said.

Steve Jobs is no longer around to encourage students to chart their own course, guard their independence, and do it all without fear. In 2019, Tim Cook would have them abandon the principles that allowed our forebears to flourish. Let’s hope the grads think different.