The title of this post is based on the single most common complaint I get from government employees when trying to convince them to allow our company to operate their recreation sites. Let me retell probably my favorite argument I ever had on this topic. I will confess I cleaned up some of the verbiage in the retelling. I will further observe that our company soon after mysteriously lost the bidding for the renewal contract, just about the only time we have ever lost such a renewal in over 40 bids.
I was having a discussion with one of the many US Forest Service District Rangers who do not like having private for-profit companies operating on public lands, even if we save the taxpayer a lot of money by doing so. He said to me, "It's not right to make a profit on public land." I thought a minute and responded, "So you work for free?"
He looked at me confused, "What do you mean?"
I said, "well, if you took a salary, you would be making a profit on public land, wouldn't you? "
He responded that "this was totally different -- a salary is not the same profit. And besides, my salary is nothing like your huge profits."
I said, "Are you kidding? My profits on this District are less than half your salary. And you earn your salary whether visitors are happy or not. Your salary is guaranteed and unless you are caught having sex with an eight-year-old on your desk, you probably have it until retirement. My profit is never guaranteed -- I might make it or I might not. And getting that profit requires investment of tens of thousands of dollars in trucks and such. And if I don't do a good job, customers stop showing up and I don't make any money at all."
He responded, "but your profits just add cost. A non-profit doing the same thing, or the government doing the same thing, would save that money."
I said in turn, "that is incredibly naive. What I do is operate efficiently and at low costs. So a non-profit or the government does NOT do the same thing, because without the incentive to make a profit they don't operate anywhere near as cost-effectively. I have never seen an example where the government could operate for less than twice my costs. So our company can save half the costs of operating the park, which dwarfs the size of my 5% profit margin. The savings I produce are 20 times my profit -- if anything, I am grossly underpaid.