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Let profits save (or sink) Exploration Place

What must a business do to make a profit? It must deliver something that people want at a price they are willing to pay. It must deliver that product or service with costs lower than revenues, if it is to survive beyond the short-term.

If a business fails to do this it will become immediately aware, as it will be generating losses instead of profits. Since losses can’t be continued for very long before the business goes bankrupt, management has a very powerful motive to make corrections.

There are some who believe that making a profit is evil or immoral, that to make a profit you must be ripping off the customer. But profits are a signal that the business is doing something right. It must be satisfying customers’ desires, and doing it efficiently.

Governments, bureaucrats, and politicians, on the other hand, don’t have such a powerful motivating factor. They have, at least in their minds, a deep well of public money to spend. Through their power to tax they have the ability to keep money-losing institutions in place, no matter how inefficiently the institution operates, or how little demand there is for its product.

The simple fact is, and there is really no way to sugarcoat this, the people of Sedgwick County do not value the product that Exploration Place offers enough to pay what it costs to produce it.

Now if Exploration Place was privately owned, its owners would have the right to keep it in business and operating at a loss as long as they wanted or could afford to. But Exploration Place is asking the government to pay for its losses and keep it operating. That means that you and I — probably the very same people who thought Exploration Place didn’t provide a product we were willing to pay for — are asked to keep it in business.

Examine the incentives in place. Exploration Place operates at a loss. Instead of confronting the urgent and undeniable need to change, they receive a handout from the government. Considering the recent history of our local governments and other money-losing institutions, this is likely the first of a series of payments to be made.

Yes, I am aware that consultants are being dispatched to figure out how Exploration Place can change to avoid future losses, but I don’t have a lot of confidence that the right changes will be made. That’s because after changes are made — whatever they may be — Exploration Place will still undoubtedly lack the feedback mechanism of market signals that guide business managers to provide products and services that people actually value enough to buy.

Government leaders and newspaper editorial writers tell us that we cannot afford to lose such a wonderful place. But if it’s so wonderful, why won’t its customers pay what it really costs?

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