I have a friend who’s a very successful, second-generation business owner in Montgomery County. His father, who built the business into the success that it is today, retired about five years ago. A healthy 70-year-old, dad can be frequently found in Florida lying out in the sun and living it up with his wife and newfound friends. He never has to worry about money; he’s got a ton of it in the bank. But that doesn’t stop him from collecting his social security checks and taking advantage of government-sponsored discounts on prescription drugs and free public transportation in his city. Hey, why not? Those perks are there. If they are going to give them to somebody, we would stand there and take them, right?
About two year ago I was flying to Palm Springs for a conference. I had to listen to a conversation behind me between a married couple and their seatmate. The married couple, both in their early 60s, had retired from lifetime mid-management careers at General Motors. They loved the company, they said. And they particularly loved their union. That’s because, after working for GM for more than 30 years, they’re now sitting on a pension and benefits package worth a ton. As they sipped their drinks they talked about how they’re now spending their time flying around the country, playing golf and visiting their grandkids. What about the fact that GM was going bust at the time and had to be bailed out by government tax dollars? Whatever. I mean, hey, why not? Those perks are there. If they are going to give them to somebody, we would stand there and take them, right?
A friend of a friend is a police officer in a nearby township, and he’s worked hard for the force doing a very dangerous and thankless job for close to 20 years. Now he’s in his mid-50s and able to retire. And his retirement package isn’t so different from many others: His payout will be based on his last year’s salary. So he does what all of his buddies do. He works his butt off all year, pulling double shifts—which means that his pension is inflated to almost double what it really should be. Then he retires, collects his checks, and takes a less demanding job. Ka-ching. And who can blame him? Those perks are there. If they are going to give them to somebody, we would stand there and take them, right?
Which brings me to Dick Yeungling, the founder and President of D.G. Yuengling & Son’s, the Pottsville-based beer maker and oldest brewery in the country. Yuengling makes great beer. They’ve had double-digit growth over the past few years and have seen annual shipments go from 137,000 barrels in 1985 to almost three million this year. And now, Yuengling wants to expand. He wants to build another beer-making factory. But it may not be in Pennsylvania. He’s threatening to go elsewhere. “Some states are very economically friendly,” he said. “We don’t necessarily base business decisions on incentives like that. But if they are going to give them to somebody, we would stand there and take them.”
Wait, where did I hear that line before?
Welcome to Philadelphia (and Pottsville) in 2012. And welcome to America too. Where business owners and union workers share the same source of entitlement.
Union members get a lot of criticism. They are accused of being overpaid. They receive too many benefits. They are getting more than the norm. They are bilking the system and sucking the public dry. They are entitled. They only care about themselves. They don’t give a hoot about the greater good. And they blame the corporate big-wigs for being unfair. All of this has some truth. But are they doing anything different than the business community that they so often battle? They’ve worked hard all those years. They’ve earned their contractually due benefits and pensions. Now pay up!
Meanwhile, the business people I know are just like the union people they employ. The successful business owner retires to his community in a sunny state and cheerfully deposits his government checks like any union member would. No matter that the money really isn’t needed. No matter that it’s too much or that they’re also sucking the system dry. They still blame the government for all its mismanagement. No matter that they’re contributing to the same deficits that may ultimately bankrupt their grandchildren’s generation. He’s earned that social security. He’s earned that Medicare. Now pay up!
And so too for Dick Yuengling. “If they are going to give them to somebody, we would stand there and take them.” Spoken like a true capitalist. A born entrepreneur. A savvy businessman. Why build a new factory in Pennsylvania and employ hundreds or thousands more local people? Why sink more money into the region and fund local contractors, professionals, suppliers and other small businesses? Why do this here when some other state may cut a special deal with you to reduce the taxes everyone else seems to have to pay so that you can bring your beloved beer-making talents to their region? This is not your fault. This is the fault of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Shame on our Governor. How dare he not show you the respect that you deserve? You’ve earned that respect! Now pay up!
Is Pennsylvania any better a business environment than other states? We’re better than California, that’s for sure. And we’re worse than a few other states. Our taxes may be slightly higher here compared to elsewhere. But they’re certainly not oppressive. And, even though Yuengling is also concerned about our state’s “uncertainty,” we’re no more “uncertain” than anywhere else in the country. Because when was there ever certainty about anything, particularly in business? No, these are just excuses by a business guy who’s trying to negotiate a better deal and save a few bucks. Good for him. That’s what business guys do.
So can we all admit that we’re the same? The unions. The small-business owners. The down-and-out workers. The big business executives. The 99 percent. In the end, we’re all trying to negotiate the best deal we can, regardless of the effects elsewhere. We’re all going to take it if we can get it. Whether we’re entitled to it or not.