June 11, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 24

Dr. Wes

In a sandwich shop, in the late 1980s, I learned more about Ballmer and business than I ever wanted

By Dr. Wes Browning

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I am torn between talking about Tim Eyman or Steve Ballmer, so I’ll talk about both.

Tim Eyman is back. This time his cause can’t fail to get funding. He wants to take away Seattle’s new minimum wage hike by getting the state to take away every city’s right to pass such laws in the first place.

This is the Tim Eyman we all have learned to know and love, the one who figured out you could take power from people by tricking them into passing laws that would take their own rights to get laws passed away from themselves. People do it for the fleeting sense of power it gives them. Some people will light fireworks in their own pants for the thrill of it.

This is why we can never have nice things. Seattle couldn’t have a higher minimum wage until we could push through a higher minimum wage for the whole state. If and when the state ever got a $15-an-hour minimum wage, he’d want a state amendment to the constitution prohibiting the state from having its own minimum wage.

Then, if the U.S. Congress raised the minimum wage to $15 all across the country, I suppose he’d complain of the injustice to U.S. businesses compared to businesses in Uruguay, and lobby the international community to reign the U.S. in.

Tim Eyman doesn’t live or work in Seattle, so it’s hard to believe he cares about Seattle’s minimum wage except that he can get money from businesses opposed to it if he makes noise about it.

Can we blame him all that much? Who doesn’t need money? Workers need money. Businesses need money. Tim Eyman needs businesses to pay for his campaigns so he can stay in the game and keep up his work schedule of two initiatives for every three years.

No, wait. Steve Ballmer doesn’t need money.

I’m always happy when Steve Ballmer gets in the news because he’s the only billionaire I’ve ever met. I actually met him in a sandwich shop in the 1980s, before he was a billionaire.

I barely knew then what Microsoft did. As a cab driver I had previously been sent to a shop near Medina to pick up a food order and deliver it to the Bill Gates residence and looked forward to asking Mr. Gates what his company was about. But he had someone else answer the door who wasn’t interested in conversation.

Mr. Ballmer was not then so ensconced. He would drop in at the all-night sandwich shop I favored just because it was open, on his way home from late-late hours at work in the debugging factory. We struck up a conversation about space travel, because I was in a sandwich shop and didn’t want to hear about bugs.

The idea came up that through space colonization of lifeless outer-space rocks, not just humans but the other life we bring along with us might survive global catastrophe to carry on the evolution we’ve been participating in, and, who knows, finally accomplish something worthwhile in a million more years.

I’m used to hearing people reject this idea on the grounds that the money it would cost should be better spent on earth to directly benefit the humans already here. I’ve always thought that objection had merit. I’d never before heard the objection Steve Ballmer gave. It was, in effect, who cares if humanity or life in general survives? He would be O.K. if it were all over in a generation or so. Not his problem.

There is also merit in that view. Why should we care about future generations? What part about “future” don’t people understand? The future hasn’t happened yet, so nothing in it exists.

There are those who would say it’s mad to spend $2 billion on a sports investment, when the same money spent on education or health in this state would return far more value in the long run.

But, come on. Long runs are abstractions. Business is here and now.



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