Chris Powell: Don't get emotional about loss of GE and Aetna HQs

Published on Saturday, 12 August 2017 20:28
Written by Chris Powell


Having spent the last several decades capitulating to its government and welfare classes and squandering its advantages over other states, Connecticut has a lot to apologize for and correct. But it shouldn’t feel quite so bad about the departure of General Electric’s headquarters from Fairfield to Boston and the departure of Aetna’s headquarters from Hartford to New York.

People have thought of GE and Aetna as Connecticut companies when they really haven’t been.

General Electric got started in Schenectady in upstate New York, consolidated in New York City, and acquired many related companies around the country before moving its corporate headquarters to Fairfield and transforming itself into an international financial conglomerate.

While Aetna started in Hartford in 1853, as it grew it also opened offices throughout the country and the world and became a financial conglomerate much like GE. Aetna has 5,000 employees in Connecticut but 44,000 elsewhere.

The boards of both companies long have lacked members with roots in the state.

People here like to think of United Technologies Corp. as a Connecticut company as well. But while UTC began in Connecticut with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and retains its headquarters here, like GE and Aetna the company used its earnings to acquire other businesses and became an international conglomerate. UTC’s employment in the state has declined steadily as it has expanded its aircraft engine and other businesses elsewhere.

Since the businesses of these companies are so dependent on or regulated by national governments, politics has required them to diversify their geography. It’s not enough for them to have the support of Connecticut’s delegation in Congress. They need support nationally.

Meanwhile other national and international companies have expanded into Connecticut for the same reason, perhaps causing emotional pangs and resentments in the places where they originated.

But that’s the evolution of most big businesses - from entities with local character and geographic loyalty to cold accumulations of mobile capital. They’re not emotional about Connecticut and the state is silly to be emotional about them.

* * *

Denocrats dissemble on contract: Defending their ratification of the new state employee union contract, Democratic state legislators say its 10-year term, criticized by Republican legislators as too long, is no big deal.

The Democrats note that state employee union contracts have been reopened early before, as the one just extended was.

But that argument is weak, since reopening such contracts is possible only with the consent of the unions and there is no guarantee that the unions will give their consent. Indeed, if, as the Democratic legislators suggest, reopening contracts is a mere technicality, why should their length be specified at all? Why shouldn’t the contracts be written so they can be terminated by either party at any time?

When union leaders urged their members to ratify the new contract, they did not argue, as Democratic legislators argue now, that the duration clause is meaningless. No, union leaders argued that the contract provides long-term protection of jobs and compensation. Union members might not have ratified the contract if its four-year guarantee of employment really meant that layoffs could begin at any time.

The essence of the contract issue remains that Democrats, the party of government employees, believe that government employees should have more power over the government than the voters do. It’s nonsense but it is repaid well by government employees at election time.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Saturday, 12 August 2017 20:28. Updated: Saturday, 12 August 2017 20:30.