It seems everyone wants a pool. But nobody wants to pay for it, because after all pools are really expensive – both to build and maintain. When I moved into my current neighborhood we were “promised” it would have a pool by the real estate agent and the builder. Our HOA dues were inflated owing to the necessity of maintaining this incipient pool. It was not to be. A mixture of the housing bust and and builder antics sealed the fate of the “free” pool. Now that our neighborhood is about 95% occupied there is increasing pressure for “we the neighbors” to build one ourselves via a self-assessed HOA dues increase. When we moved in my children were at the prime “pool” age, however they are nearly grown (college already?!?) and so we have little interest in footing the bill for something we would almost never use. But, we moved in here voluntarily, fully aware that pool expenses would be part of the deal so I have no ethical basis for complaint, merely a pragmatic one. If I don’t like it, I can, as they say, move.

That option, moving, however, does not exist moving up one territorial notch to the county level. Every county in the US pretty much operates the same way. I recently read that a swimming pool has been the number one recreational request in my county (Oconee) for many years. I find this fascinating on several levels. For one it flies in the face of the oft given justifications for government, that is, courts, cops, roads and schools. Surely government must provide these absolutely essential functions, no? Well, no, but for the sake of argument I’ll concede the point right now. However, I find it laughable that recreational amenities now too fall into the category of “essential state functions. Really? That brings me to my second wry observation: Oconee County already has a private provider of pools and gymnasiums (another common request). So, it’s not that people want access to a pool per se, (clearly there is already “access” locally), it’s that they want someone else to foot the lion share of the bill. Getting the county to provide these things means that when you utilize them a disproportionate burden of the cost is shifted to (a) all those with a higher property value than yours and (b) all those that use it less than you do. Subsidization, pure and simple. Not very conservative for a supposedly conservative county?

There is a common misconception that we need a county government to provide these sorts of things because governments can lower the cost for everyone because they don’t extract any evil profit. But think about what that means for a minute. Profit is the increase in subjective value realized when one takes a pile of resources and alters them into a more pleasing arrangement (think raw ingredients —> apple pie). If there is a decrease in satisfaction (think Ferrari melted down to make pie plates) that would be a loss. So when one argues that if a private business were providing access to a park or a pool it would be “too expensive” but that government can “make it affordable” what you’re really saying is that highly valued resources (private pool) should be rearranged into something that is of lower value (public pool). Because that is exactly what happens when money is taken from a property tax payer A to offset the cost of pool access for property tax payer B. Payer A’s funds were diverted from whatever he would have spent them on (high value to him) to something of lower value, that is, something he never would have spent them on, a pool. To argue this is “ok” is to argue that theft is justified in order to provide essential human rights like park and pool access. As they say, first world problems.

So to all those in the county that want a pool I would offer this bit of advice: put your money where your mouth is and join the private pool already here so that it can grow and expand in relation to the demand for its services, or, if you believe you can do a better job then come together voluntarily and risk your own capital (not mine) by building one yourself. I would offer similar advice to the pool proponents in my neighborhood. “Pool” your resources, buy a lot, build the pool and run it for profit. Only with a profit/loss test can anyone know if that would be a wise redirection of capital. There is no better method of plumbing the depth of a man’s belief than to ask him to risk his own capital.