Tag Archives: unions

Two Great Life Lessons and a Cautionary Tale

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

I went to a local public school with a legendary band program. Our director had been there for decades, and as a result of his diligence, the school was constantly being invited to perform outside our state and even outside the country. Each year we competed, we performed an “A” rated piece, which are often the most difficult for high school programs, and we always received a “1” rating—the best possible score.

By the time I entered high school, this stellar band program with its aging director, was on educational cruise control. I was an OK trombonist, but I needed someone to give me a swift kick in the petoot. Not only did that not happen my first year there, I didn’t even qualify for the advanced band, and I hated it.

This great director was in his final year before retirement, and taking an interest in my musical future seemed of little interest to him. He wasn’t mean, but I was neither inspired, nor motivated by him either.

The following year, however, brought a new director named Don Nathan – a man who was young, full of steam, and knew he was filling some big shoes. He was also a man who would have been the first victim of last-in-first-out cuts if teachers’ unions had their way in their desire to protect veteran teachers.  His first order of business went something like this.Rally Held To Stand In Solidarity With Union Workers Across The Country

This band program has been going to contests, playing an “A” level piece, and getting a “1” rating for decades. Clearly you’re capable of more, and we’re going to do more.

This young teacher decided that, instead of filling legendary shoes, he’d one up them. Some saw it as arrogant, but I saw it as ambitious, and I loved it. He picked a majestic piece called Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger. It was a beautiful work that I encourage any classical music buff to seek out. It was also an “AA” rated piece, which is often reserved for college level musicians and something we had never attempted before.

The piece was the most difficult challenge I had ever endeavored to play as a musician. For those of you who are musicians, you’ll understand the difficulty put forth by a piece with time signatures including 5/8, 13/16, and even instances with no time signature where we simply followed the conductor’s baton for each beat.

Percy Aldridge Grainger
Percy Aldridge Grainger

As I struggled to learn this piece, there was one section where I was the featured instrument, but, because I was still struggling to learn it, I played very quietly in fear of someone hearing how badly I was butchering this inspiring verse. In front of everyone, Mr. Nathan stops the rehearsal, looks over at me and asks, “Where are you? I can’t hear you.”

I explained I didn’t want my errors to be heard, and I’ll never forget his response: “It’s OK if you screw up, but at least screw up with feeling.”

This was 20 years ago, but I still remember this like it was yesterday. I advanced to the premier band–thanks to him pushing me—and I remember, most of all, doing something our great program had never before attempted to achieve. We went to contest, played an “AA” rated piece, and still got our “1.” I also remember our sense of accomplishment when we actually did what we feared we may not be able to do.

There are two lessons to be learned here, and I carry them with me always.

First, what you’ve done isn’t what matters; it is what you do in your future that will define you. Until you are dead, your legacy is not complete. One need only look at Joe Paterno to understand how a legacy can be destroyed in an instant.

Joe Paterno
Joe Paterno

If you look at some of the greatest successes in life, whether it be athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan or entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, all their interviews have a common theme. They don’t brag about what they’ve done nor rest on their laurels. They talk about what their weaknesses are and what they need to work on so that they can improve and be better.

Second, don’t be afraid to fail. If you’re going to do something, do it proudly, errors and all. Every business you see today started out as the financial risk of a dreamer, and they each could have failed. If you look at all they’ve done, they probably erred often along the way.

Steve Jobs got fired from Apple at one point, and Tiger Woods thrice reinvented his swing, playing horribly by his standards until he learned to trust his work and live with the results. But both achieved greater success as a result of forging ahead and facing their fears.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

My cautionary tale is this. I have made no bones about my disdain for unions, and Mr. Nathan is one reason why. These are the two most valuable lessons I personally learned from high school. I owe Mr. Nathan for a lot of who I am as a person, and I can directly point to those lessons when I look at my successes in life. He was one of my favorite and certainly one of my best teachers.

However, he was one of our school’s newest teachers at the time. If there had been cuts, he would have been the first to go in favor of more tenured seat warmers that I sadly learned almost nothing from. I’d be a lesser man because of it. Lucky for me, I was in school during the Reagan years, and the economy was strong enough that didn’t happen.

I believe these lessons will help anyone, and I wanted to share them. I also hope you’ll fight to rid our schools of policies that would eschew great teachers in favor of the ones biding their time until retirement. It’s yours and your children’s future. Teach them well, and fight to be sure they are taught well by others.


Simple Math: Economics 101 – Why Government Sucks

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Math Problem #1

Let’s imagine there was a country with 50 citizens.

Then let’s imagine they all made a product that generated them $2.5 million in income. For purposes of this argument, we’ll say $50,000 a year for each of them.

Then let’s imagine they decided to elect one person of the group to be their “government” because they felt like they needed someone to handle things a government generally does. This means that they can now only make $2,450,000 worth of goods, because the 50th person isn’t producing any longer.

At that point, the 49 people, making $50k each still, would have to sacrifice about $1000 each to pay their government employee who is no longer generating product themselves because he/she is the government now. The result would be that they would all only make $49,000 each instead of $50k, including the government worker.

Now, let’s imagine that you kept adding government functions and thus needed more people to administrate them until you got to a 50/50 ratio of private sector/government workers. The 25 remaining private sector workers that started out making $50K would have to contribute $25K each so that their 25 government counterparts could make $25k each as well.

Notice that in each scenario, as more workers were moved to the government, the average income for everyone went down while the amount of goods they produced went down as well? The fact that government employees no longer generate a marketable good is often lost on people. They are a necessary expense, but entirely an expense, nonetheless.

Here’s where the math gets interesting though. The drop from 50:0 private sector/government workers to 49:1 resulted in a mere 2% loss for everyone. However, the drop from 25:25 to 24:26 ($25,000 to $24,000) would result in a 4% loss for everyone, and if we were to go from 10:40 to 9:41 ($10,000 to $9,000) it’s a difference of 10%, and the 2:48 to 1:49 ($2000 to $1000) is a difference of 50%!

What does this mean you ask? It means that as we add government employees, the losses are not linear, they are exponential, as it relates to the earner. The addition of each government employee hurts at a higher percentage than the addition of the one before it, as opposed to just the same hit each time.

This is a simplified equation to make it easily understandable, but the beautiful thing about math is that it doesn’t care whether one likes it or not. It simply is what it is.

While it is easy to want the government to solve all of society’s problems, individual problems are the responsibility of the individual to fix—not mine, not their neighbor’s, and not their government’s. When the government grows, we all hurt.

Math Problem #2

People assume that government workers are taxpayers. While it is true that they return some of their income in the form of taxes, from a mathematical standpoint this is false.

Again let’s assume they make a $50k salary, and then let’s assume they pay $15k in taxes. That is a net cost to the actual taxpayers of $35k, right? Wrong actually, but I’ll get to that in a minute. So while they are paying taxes, it’s still a debit, not a credit. The term payer gives the impression they’re contributing, but from a mathematical standpoint, government workers are takers, not contributors, and when they “pay” taxes, they are effectively just reducing the amount they take.

I know I said that that’s a cost of $35k, but like a stereotypical politician, I lied to you. Because if that same person were in the private sector making $50k and paying $15k in taxes, that would be a $15k credit to the tax pool. So it’s either a $35k loss if they work for the government or a $15k credit if they’re in the private sector. This means that the loss is the entire $50k. So yes, they do “Pay” taxes, but be assured their complete $50k salary is the cost to us taxpayers, not just the untaxed amount of $35k.


After reading this, it may seem that I am anti-government. I am not anti-government or even against government workers. Government serves an important role as it is the only thing separating us from anarchy.

However, one should think of government workers like food. It is necessary for us to have government, a proper diet and proper portions are required for good health. But while that stimulus slider, regulation cookies, and entitlement cake may look good and even taste good, they are surely the way to diabetic shock and an early death if not done in moderation.