Unless you've been living under a rock the past few weeks you're probably aware that Friday is the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK. Documentaries on PBS are re-telling the day, historical and media figures who I thought were long dead are being wheeled out of their nursing homes to share their stories, old conspiracy tales are re-hashed and, thanks to YouTube, I've watched the Zapruder film dozens of times (and Miley's new video too, which is so a-w-e-s-o-m-e).
From all of this I've come to two conclusions: A 48-year-man should not be watching Miley Cyrus videos because it's kind of creepy. And, as a small business owner, I am damned glad I didn't live in 1963, let alone run a business back then. And here are 8 good reasons why.
Taxes were way higher in 1963. Hey, fellow Republicans, we should stop whining about today's high taxes. Compared to 1963 we're sitting pretty. Today's top rate on income is a mere 39%. Back then it was 91%. Wait...was that a typo? No! Not only that but taxes on capital gains in 1963 were 25% compared to 20% today, which only recently rose from 15% over the past few years. So maybe we should stop complaining about how high our taxes are. Obamacare? Yeah, you can keep complaining about that. What a mess.
It sucked to be a woman or a minority. Frankly, it still ain't so great today. But a lot of progress has been made. As I write this, women have gained more jobs since the last recession than men. Their number and pay scale among public company CEOs are rising. Minorities are gaining steadily in the job market and hold positions of power and responsibility unthinkable in 1963. We even have a socialist as a President! (Kidding! I'm just kidding). Today, being a woman or a minority still has its challenges in the workplace. But nowhere near the challenges back in 1963.
The world was about to blow up at any time. Today we fear a terrorist lighting a bomb in his shoe on a plane or detonating an explosive device in Times Square. That's scary. But c'mon, compare that to worldwide thermonuclear war. That's what the population faced back in 1963. Imagine running a business under those circumstances. Talk about pressure to ship an order out on time! And what exactly were the payment terms to your customers back then? Pay in 30 days, unless the Soviets attack, whereby all invoices are immediately due within the next 20 minutes or you'll have a hell of a finance charge to deal with?
Travel is way better. Back in 1963 flying was civilized: there were sexy stewardesses, smoking on planes and gourmet food served throughout. Last week I had to punch an old lady in the face so I wouldn't lose the last window seat on my Southwest flight to Dallas. Times have changed. But...it's still cheaper and better. Today the cost to fly from Philly to San Francisco can be as low as $200. Taking a bus from Philly to New York costs less than twenty bucks. Amtrak is still a freaking fortune but oh well...you can't win 'em all. Today's business travel is way less expensive, easier and incredibly safer than it was 50 years ago. If you need to do business somewhere...anywhere...in the country you can pretty much be there in one piece the next day and for not that much money. And for the record, that old lady was asking for it.
We are way more mobile. The smartphone will be looked back as the greatest business invention of the last 100 years, with the possible exception of the Keurig coffee machine which makes really delicious coffee. With my iPhone or Droid I can be doing business anywhere around the world and have instant access to my data. And what's mind-boggling is that today's apps will be considered the infant forerunners of the great wireless apps to come.
Things are much more affordable. Think things are expensive now compared to then? According to economist Mark Perry, they're not. In fact, things are much cheaper. Back then (well, 1959 but close enough) it took the typical American 885.6 hours of work to afford the average list of household appliances compared to 170.4 hours today. For example, a Kennedy voter had to work 167.5 hours to afford a refrigerator and 100.5 hours to buy a washing machine. Yet today's Obama voter only has to work 22.4 and 23.3 hours to buy the same things. Or just hold out for a while until the government eventually just gives it to them!
There's more capital available. The banks are still pretty tight with their money but compared to 1963 they're like your drunk uncle on Christmas giving out dollar bills. Back then you really had to know someone to get a simple equipment loan. Today the Small Business Administration guarantees billions and there are thousands of community banks and credit unions across the country that are competing for your interest. Plus you can raise money from credit cards, financing companies, angel investors, venture capitalists and crowdfunding sites or even start your own reality show, make a ton of money, evade taxes, go to jail, write a book and then become a millionaire. USA! USA!
It's easier to pay and get paid. Getting paid today is much less of a drama then it was 50 years ago. You can accept payment online, with a credit card, or just by using your mobile phone. Overseas transfers are routine. Approval times for letters of credit are a fraction of what they were back then. Remember waiting for a wire of funds at the American Express office in Paris or Rome? Now you can just go to an ATM, which will automatically convert your dollars to Euros so you can feel as poor as the Europeans do.
Yeah, give me 2013 any day. Except for Obamacare.
A version of this column appeared previously on Phillymag.com.