Government is almost defined by one kind of business it runs: The last-use-of-force business, such as police and courts and military. Since we don’t pay for these services in fees, contracts, and sales — we’re taxed, instead — we don’t usually call them “businesses.”
But governments have gotten involved in a lot of other more business-like businesses: Roads, libraries, mass transit, waterworks, garbage collection, etc. Of course, government being government, it supports most such enterprises largely with taxes, not fees for services rendered.
Yet there are exceptions.
Take Jackson, Michigan. It runs a number of swimming pools, and charges for usage. The pools lose money. Which taxpayers subsidize. Typical. But Jackson also runs a putt-putt golf course. And it makes money at that business.
All to the good? A government business that actually comes out in the black — what a deal!
Well, Bill Chrysan, proprietor of Putterz Golf & Games in nearby Ypsilanti, doesn’t think so. He notes that the government golf course doesn’t pay property taxes and has its maintenance done at taxpayer expense. With advantages like this, it’s hard to compete against — and it hardly pays its way like other businesses.
For that and other reasons, this one putt-putt course provides no model. Governments shouldn’t run businesses, says James Hohman of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, for the “[s]ame reason that chimps shouldn’t drive. Just because some can do it doesn’t mean that it should be encouraged.”
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.