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The Mob Museum, one year later
That’s a link to a news video that Kyle Gillis, a reporter for NPRI’s Nevada Journal, produced one year ago today. The story covered the grand opening of the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, popularly known as the Mob Museum, and spotlighted criticism from NPRI and the Taxpayer Protection Alliance over the use of public funds for the project — as well as some colorful reaction from former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, the museum’s primary champion.
In the video, Goodman boldly predicts that the museum will draw 800,000 visitors in its first year of operation, while acknowledging that he’s been cautioned to put the actual number at a more realistic 400,000 or 500,000. Oh yeah, he also refers to critics of the project — which was subsidized with $42 million in taxpayer money — as “idiots,” “morons” and “monkeys.”
It was with great interest, then, that I read Kyle’s follow-up piece on the museum yesterday while eating my morning banana. One year later, the numbers are in. How many visitors did the Mob Museum attract? 800,000? 500,000? 300,000?
Hizzoner was over-confident by a mere 320 percent.
Now, I recognize that schadenfreude can be awfully off-putting, so let me be clear that my intent here is not to embarrass Oscar Goodman for being embarrassingly wrong. He’s just guilty of making the same mistake that so many of our politicians have made — albeit with an extra-heavy dose of hubris to go with it.
Rather, my point is to call attention to a lesson that our policymakers better learn, and fast: that glitz, glimmer, fanfare and all the clever marketing and media savvy in the world may be able to fool some of the media and public — but they can’t fool the laws of markets and economics.
The reason the Mob Museum’s underperformance was so easy to predict is the same reason so many other such endeavors have failed. When politicians substitute their judgment for that of consumers acting in a free market, the results are never good. As I wrote at the time of the museum’s opening:
That is exactly why it should be left to the private sector to do these things. Maybe the Mob Museum is a good idea. Maybe it's a bad idea. But such an idea should be funded by individuals willing to risk their own money — or it should not be funded at all. Allowing the free market to determine which projects move forward ensures that the decision will be based on consumer demand, not on political appeal.
That basic principle is as true today as it was one year ago, 100 years ago and 1,000 years ago. And it will be no less true 1,000 years into the future. Yet remarkably, one thing that’s every bit as consistent as that principle is the stubborn insistence from politicians that they’re capable of finding a way around this time-tested system. Which means the rest of us must be equally steady in our commitment to holding them accountable.
As Kyle’s story notes, the Mob Museum drew just enough visitors in its first year to break even financially, and only then because it doesn’t have to pay back the $42 million in subsidies. But what happens during future years, as the novelty declines and it fails to achieve even that token level of success? Just like we’ve seen with other misguided government efforts, such as the Monorail and the Springs Preserve, taxpayers will likely end up footing the bill for the museum’s operating costs.
As Taxpayer Protection Alliance President David Williams said when the museum first opened: “This really is a no-win situation for the taxpayer.”
A year later, it’s clear that taxpayers are indeed — and quite predictably — losing.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.
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