The Mickey Tax

by Henry on June 24, 2008

I was at a sort-of DC power lunch yesterday with staffers from the Hill (the first such lunch I’ve ever gone to, and likely to be the last for a while), and the conversation turned to a piece of legislation that’s being pushed hard by lobbyists for big players in the tourism industry, the so-called Travel Promotion Act. The Act is supposed to create a $200 million fund to promote tourism, by levying a charge on visitors to the US. The charge is non-trivial – the estimates I heard suggested that in order to raise $10 a head to give to the travel industry’s promotional fund, the government will likely have to impose a total fee of $25 to cover administrative overheads.

This seems to me to be one of the more straightforwardly stupid legislative proposals of the recent past. As someone who used to visit the US a lot before I became a permanent resident, I can testify that I would have found it extremely galling to have to fork over $25 to subsidize glossy brochures for the US tourist industry, and would have likely restricted my travel to the US as a result. For that matter, I’ve heard strong resentment expressed by US citizens who have to pay similar fees when they visit certain countries in Latin America. Even so, it sounds as though the bill has a lot of support – 44 senators are co-sponsoring it already.

This is one of those instances where public choice theory works – a number of big players in the tourist industry (whom, one suspects, will reap the lion’s share of the benefits) are trying to impose costs that will very plausibly hurt travel to the US as a whole, even as it directs more of the tourists who do come in their direction. The major villain in the story is the Disney Corporation – the Washington Post ran a good story a few months ago, Mickey Goes to Washington, on Disney lobbyists’ involvement in the campaign behind the proposed Act. The Act’s financial consequences are partly obscured because non-US citizens are expected to take a lot of the hit. But I hardly think that it will promote travel.

More generally, there should be some phrase or term for bills or proposals that are likely to have the opposite effect to that which their title suggests – this is hardly an unique phenomenon. Suggestions welcome in comments.

Update: Thanks to Maurice Meilleur in comments, we have a winner. NEGISLATION (n): A legal act which, by design or accident, achieves the opposite effect to that which it purportedly intends. Examples include the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, and the Travel Promotion Act (the Mickey Tax Act) of 2008. See also negulation.

Update 2: Title changed to make it punchier

{ 64 comments }

1

The Modesto Kid 06.24.08 at 2:48 pm

to promote tourism, by levying a charge on visitors

Also they should consider promoting education, by taxing textbooks.

2

M. Townes 06.24.08 at 3:13 pm

And, of course, the Act says nothing about the onerous visa and customs restrictions placed on travelers. This is, of course, the real problem, but even Disney can’t make pixie dust strong enough to break the grip of our national paranoia.

3

clew 06.24.08 at 3:27 pm

This bill lacks vision! We should be charging the unenlightened masses who have not visited the US! Overhead will likely be higher than 3/5, but perhaps we can bring it down by outsourcing.

4

matt 06.24.08 at 3:28 pm

One part of the bill seems likely to be useful- using funds to update and improve ports of entry to cut down on lines and improve service. Whether this would be properly done or not I have no idea, though. The real question I’d have is how the fee would be charged and where collected. As far as I could tell from a quick glance this wasn’t addressed in the bill. (Such bills are not the easiest things to read so perhaps I missed it.) If it were tacked into plane or boat ticket prices somehow I doubt people would notice that much- it would just be one more fee. But then it would be charged not just to visitors but LPRs and citizens as well. If it’s charged at the border then it will be more annoying and will also, of course, slow down entry greatly. Surely equipping ports of entry to deal with such charges would eat up the modernization funds. It sounds like a pretty dumb plan all around.

5

Bill Gardner 06.24.08 at 3:34 pm

“I was at a sort-of DC power lunch yesterday with staffers from the Hill (the first such lunch I’ve ever gone to, and likely to be the last for a while)”

The conventional wisdom used to be that the only effective way for an academic to communicates facts to legislators was to meet with staff. But now they have Google, and we have blogs, and perhaps the personal meeting means less.

6

Henry 06.24.08 at 3:36 pm

Matt – the fee wouldn’t affect citizens and permanent residents. Instead, it would be levied when people from visa waiver countries apply to travel (under new rules they have to submit their personal details well in advance of travel to the US).

7

matt 06.24.08 at 3:53 pm

Thanks Henry- do you have info on new rules for visa waiver countries? It sounds awful.

8

Wilson 06.24.08 at 4:03 pm

Hmm … seems like a perfectly reasonable fund to establish. I propose a slight modification, though: let’s raise the funds by taxing resorts and hotels, since they stand to benefit.

9

Wilson 06.24.08 at 4:04 pm

Especially the ones owned by Disney, if that weren’t clear.

10

chris y 06.24.08 at 4:20 pm

Got one! Promote peace in the Middle East by invading a country there and leaving your alien and unwanted troops in it indefinitely.

11

Maurice Meilleur 06.24.08 at 4:23 pm

Negislation.

12

Maurice Meilleur 06.24.08 at 4:26 pm

Or negulation, if we’re talking administrative law.

13

Righteous Bubba 06.24.08 at 4:38 pm

Negislation.

That’s really good.

14

gdr 06.24.08 at 4:40 pm

Entry fees are a common resort for poor countries that have limited opportunities to earn foreign currency. I had no idea that the situation in the US was so desperate.

15

rageahol 06.24.08 at 5:54 pm

if those fees went to pay the TSA goons to go do something else, i’d certainly be willing to pay it at this point. think of it like a welfare program for petty bureaucrats.

16

Slocum 06.24.08 at 5:56 pm

More generally, there should be some phrase or term for bills or proposals that are likely to have the opposite effect to that which their title suggests – this is hardly an unique phenomenon. Suggestions welcome in comments.

One possibility is ‘Fatal Remedies’. There’s a book by that title. I read it a long time ago but remember it having quite a bit in common with ‘Seeing Like a State’.

One of the pernicious things about ‘fatal remedies’ is that they can create a positive feedback cycle — so if we impose a $25/head tourism promotion charge, but tourism declines, then clearly our efforts should be redoubled by imposing a $50 charge…

17

Nur al-Cubicle 06.24.08 at 6:06 pm

A Mickey Mouse law!

18

Keith 06.24.08 at 6:50 pm

nur: we already have the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. Naming more than one horrible law after that effing rodent is grounds for revoking our sovereignty.

19

john i 06.24.08 at 7:17 pm

I was going to suggest a “Costanza Law” (“Opposite, Jerry! Opposite!”) But if I recall correctly, acting in opposition to his instinct actually worked out well for George. Maybe Wile E Coyote – his schemes always backfired, but the failure wasn’t designed right in.

20

noen 06.24.08 at 7:26 pm

Figures it was Dominionist infested Disney. I think clew @ 3 had the right idea. If we’re going to be an empire we might as well start taxing the rest of the world. The standard Mafia model of a protection racket should do just fine. “Nice country youse have there, pity sumpin’ should happen to it. And now that we are business partners I’m sure you won’t mind if my boys have a look at your books.”

History is just the same themes repeated over and over at different scales. The city state, the nation state, regional states. Governments consistently react to symptoms and never really address the causes.

21

Piyush 06.24.08 at 7:27 pm

How about the opposite of this idea? If taxing $25 makes tourism worse, how about handing each visitor $25 to help them enjoy the country. Would that increase tourism? It could be funded from our bottomless general tax fund, or by taxing the Disney lobbyists.

22

noen 06.24.08 at 7:27 pm

Acme Law.

23

Matthew Kuzma 06.24.08 at 7:38 pm

I would simply call it “ironic” legislation since it pretty well fits the classical definition of irony and also implies duplicity on the part of the authors.

24

Matthew Kuzma 06.24.08 at 7:39 pm

I suppose those quotes were superfluous. Apologies.

25

nick s 06.24.08 at 7:40 pm

Entry fees are a common resort for poor countries that have limited opportunities to earn foreign currency.

Or ones with an official market (and thus a black market) for foreign exchange.

Instead, it would be levied when people from visa waiver countries apply to travel (under new rules they have to submit their personal details well in advance of travel to the US).

I’m sure that New York’s retailers just love that. “Give us a shitload of personal data that we can store out of reach of data protection laws, oh, and pay us $25 too.” It’s the kind of experience that will lead to quite a few “oh, fuck that” aborted last-minute trips across the pond.

In fact, you have to wonder if London’s retailers are surreptitiously pushing this law through. There are enough administrative and psychological barriers for those considering travelling to the US — watertight travel/health insurance, bureaucratic nonsense, TSA security theatre — that I just wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

26

banned commenter 06.24.08 at 7:52 pm

_If we’re going to be an employments we mightier as welches staunchly taxied thermosphere resurrector of thermal worst._

“>Hey, It Workable forwarded theorizers Romancing.

…I canny testifying thai I wound having fours it extracting galatia to having to foretold overrode $88…

Wounding’t be a bigotry loss, thorns: wholehearted wants a visa than stinks?

27

john m. (still not the other recent guy) 06.24.08 at 8:40 pm

I once had to make a…let’s say “quasi-voluntary contribution” to get out of Kazakhstan. As I was entirely happy to do so my suggestion is that you have pay to get out of the US, not in. A week in Orlando should be enough for most. Or 18 seconds in Las Vegas.

28

noen 06.24.08 at 8:41 pm

Someone playing around with Janus node?

29

rea 06.24.08 at 9:17 pm

Dominionist infested Disney.

Actually, the Dominionists hate Disney, thinking it’s been infected by the notorious gay agenda

30

Nur al-Cubicle 06.24.08 at 9:46 pm

Of course, John has it right. It’s not a law or does it have anything to do with tourism (sounds like a cynical play on words – “terrorism” and “tourism” ), it’s a scheme proposed by the Vlaams Blok wing of Congress. The dirty furriners aren’t cheering our imperial konquest and little wars around the globe and therefore they shall be tithed accordingly.

31

Maurice Meilleur 06.24.08 at 9:52 pm

Aw, hell. I bet my 15 minutes started when I submitted the first post, and now I’ve missed them.

The Republican congresses of 2001-2007 offered a parade of negislation: among my favorites is the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003.

I may be stretching my luck here, but would an administrative agency created by negislation be called a deparen’tment? (For example: the Department of Homeland Security.)

32

shteve 06.24.08 at 9:59 pm

Isn’t Disney one of the reasons NOT to visit the USA?

Seriously – why do we have so much farkin legislation?

Ban university law schools and any institution that has its primary function the spewing out of functionaries.

33

lemuel pitkin 06.25.08 at 1:07 am

The conventional wisdom used to be that the only effective way for an academic to communicates facts to legislators was to meet with staff.

The assumption that academics are better supplied with facts than legislative staff are strikes me as interesting.

34

e julius drivingstorm 06.25.08 at 1:09 am

There is potential here for a border patrol sting op. For $25.00, it could promise amnesty and round up 9 million of them overnight.

Hope I didn’t let the cat out of…shhh!

35

Tom T. 06.25.08 at 2:34 am

Just as a matter of perspective, I think $25 is about what a visitor to Washington DC, staying in a major hotel, already pays per day in room taxes.

36

nick s 06.25.08 at 6:19 am

it’s a scheme proposed by the Vlaams Blok wing of Congress.

Strangely not: a lot of Democratic co-sponsors who want to piss on visitors’ heads and tell them it’s raining.

I think $25 is about what a visitor to Washington DC, staying in a major hotel, already pays per day in room taxes.

Similar in NYC: the best advice to neophyte travellers to the US from Europe is ‘price per room per night bears little resemblance to number that appears on bill, even if you avoid being fucked over for breathing in the direction of the minibar’.

37

Guano 06.25.08 at 8:51 am

And will this tax be levied on those of us who are in transit through Houston or Newark or wherever, from Europe to Mexico or other parts of Central America? We already have to have the right passport with the right type of chip, send our details in advance, stand a long time in lines, get photographed and have our fingerprints taken. I wouldn’t be surprised if the US wanted to charge us 25 Dollars for passing through an airport.

38

Thom Brooks 06.25.08 at 9:48 am

If the possible $25 charge is to be levied on tourists to help promote tourism, then how will they categorize “tourist”?

As a US citizen (but UK resident), I most often travel to the US to visit family and friends. This is surely not tourist activity.

In any event, it is certainly beyond ridiculous to raise the price of travelling to the US in order to increase travelling to the US.

39

Brett Bellmore 06.25.08 at 11:20 am

“Entry fees are a common resort for poor countries that have limited opportunities to earn foreign currency.”

In the Philippines they resort to an exit fee. And don’t be impressed if your airline says they covered it as part of the ticket, the people collecting it when you leave won’t accept the voucher.

40

m 06.25.08 at 1:06 pm

An interesting point here is that a $25 tax would have to be levied to raise $10 — the rest going to “administrative” costs. Is this standard “inside the beltway” math?

41

HansG 06.25.08 at 1:12 pm

bizarre. And what exceptions will be made for students, many of which are on US-sponsored scholarships? Maybe they will be excepted thru their visa.

But what about people visiting conferences? Also charged?

42

low-tech cyclist 06.25.08 at 1:21 pm

While ‘negislation’ is definitely the across-the-board champ, there’s one specific category of bill for which there’s a better alternative.

That would be legislation that purports to be a ‘reform’ of somethingorother in its title, as in Tax Reform, Tort Reform, Bankruptcy Reform, etc.

These are usually better characterized as ‘deform’ acts, e.g. the Bankruptcy Deform Act of 2005.

43

RonCharest 06.25.08 at 1:38 pm

Have these fools considered that as it stands, EVERYONE in the world who wants to travel to the U.S. of A needs a visa, and EVERYONE must present themselves in person to their local US Embassy or consulate (if the consulate issues that particular type of visa) for a face-to-face interview?

That face-to-face interview costs USD$100, non-refundable, plus additional fees for the actual visa, if the Embasy/Consulate interviewer decides to issue one for that indivual. Add in travel expenses and additional fees if a medical exam or FBI background check is required (many types of visas require one), and we’re already talkling real money for most people in this world.

Now, after running that gauntlet, we expect a visitor to the US pay an additional USD$25 once they arrive?

Perhaps, we could get more people to visit the US if we didn’t subject them to full-body cavity searchs and arbitary arrest with indefinte detention at the border crossings?

44

Spike 06.25.08 at 1:38 pm

This would kill cross-border traffic with Canada. A lot of border towns would be really hurt.

45

matt 06.25.08 at 1:48 pm

My impression, after following up Henry’s lead above, is that this would apply only to visitors from visa-waiver countries who are coming on the visa-waiver program. So, it won’t apply to citizens, LPRs, visa holders, people from Canada (it’s a different program) etc. It seems that it will work via the new program which is to replace the I-94w form that visa waiver visitors now fill out. Rather than filling out information on a form and turning it in at the border the same information must now be filled in on-line before leaving. The information is to be checked against a data-base and a determination is made as to whether the person is admissible or not. Supposedly this is done w/in 72 hours. I guess it only has to be done once every few years no matter how often the person visits though it was unclear from what I read whether this was the 72 hour name-check process or the whole data-entry process. It’s basically a more accurate way to gather the information now gained via paper cards. The one advantage of the new system is that people who are now rejected at the border, kept in a holding cell, and then sent back on the next plane because they are not eligible for visa-waiver entry will be denied before they come. It seems (though this isn’t totally clear from what I could find) that the fee would be paid as part of this process, via credit card, I guess. So, it only applies to those entering this way.

I think the fee is dumb. The on-line registration process does not seem inherently bad to me though of course there are draw-backs. Apparently the EU is planning to roll out it’s own version quite soon, too.

This information is gathered from reading a bunch of different accounts, none of which was perfectly clear, even to someone used to reading such things. So, if others have more accurate information please do contribute.

46

novakant 06.25.08 at 1:55 pm

Oh well, 25$, whatever – what I really don’t like is the taking of finger prints and my data ending up both at the FBI and privately owned databases with apparently little or no oversight.

47

Bill Gardner 06.25.08 at 2:28 pm

The assumption that academics are better supplied with facts than legislative staff are strikes me as interesting.

That’s not assumed. The health staff person for Senator X may know more about the entire U.S. health care ‘system’ than I do. (She is also likely brighter than me.) But I know more about mental health care for children than she could ever afford to learn.

48

Aaron 06.25.08 at 3:18 pm

Maybe we could have some kind of a slogan like: “America: come for the loss of privacy, stay for the lawless detention!”
That will definately be worth a $25 entry fee!

49

Steve LaBonne 06.25.08 at 6:08 pm

Perhaps, we could get more people to visit the US if we didn’t subject them to full-body cavity searchs and arbitary arrest with indefinte detention at the border crossings?

You sound like a terrorist. Please step out of the line and come with me to the interrogation room.

50

Nick Brooke 06.25.08 at 8:47 pm

“To boost the British economy, I’d tax all foreigners living abroad.”

51

Twilight 06.25.08 at 11:14 pm

On one hand I get your point. But on the other, $25 is hardly a deal breaker.

As a US citizen it costs $50.00 USD in taxes just to land in Paris, France. This morning I just paid $388.00 USD in taxes to land in Kiev, Ukraine. And I am fairly certain those taxes aren’t going to benefit me in anyway.

What we should be concerned about is where is that money going to go?
What is the exact purpose of this fund?
Will it be spent to improve our systems of mass transportation?
Will it be used to offset the cost of fuel if a non-US citizen rents a car?
Will small tourist based companies benefit with subsidies and be listed in promotions?

Before labeling something as completely stupid, let us atleast have a real look at the small print.

52

nick s 06.25.08 at 11:46 pm

The one advantage of the new system is that people who are now rejected at the border, kept in a holding cell, and then sent back on the next plane because they are not eligible for visa-waiver entry will be denied before they come.

Your confidence in the efficiency of the US government’s immigration bureaucracy is touching.

53

Roy Belmont 06.26.08 at 12:12 am

The fundies think this is all prep for the rise of the Anti-Christ. We’ll stop the evil ones at the border, protecting the nursery of the New Messiah.
The radical mystics think it’s about already entrenched Apocalyptic evil safeguarding itself against the return of militant-this-time Jesus.
Myself to me it looks like the speed-freak neighbor finally cracking up, barricading himself in the house, watching out the attic louvers all night and day with his M-16 and AK-47 and ammo close to hand. Because the chemicals and lack of sleep and food have altered his grasp of reality past coherent retrieval.
He’s nuts, armed, and alternately terrified and hyper-confident.
I’d like to move, but the rent’s too cheap to foreswear. Plus we’re walking distance to schools and shopping, which saves a bundle on gas.

54

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.26.08 at 1:13 am

So…. what’s the quickest way to get from Australia to Canada without stopping in Honolulu? Any Sydney-to-Vancouver flights happening? $25 dollars is pretty trivial, but the mandatory fingerprinting shits me. I don’t want to share my biometrics with the Heimatschutzministerium just to visit my relatives in Ontario.

55

Matt 06.26.08 at 2:16 am

_Your confidence in the efficiency of the US government’s immigration bureaucracy is touching._

No, nick s., it’s not. I’m a lawyer who works in immigration and I know the situation all too well. But, many people are not eligible for visa waiver travel but attempt, usually through ignorance of their ineligibility, to entry that way anyway. Such people are then kept in a holding cell at the airport for a while and eventually put back on a plane. It’s expensive and unpleasant for everyone involved. If the new system works fairly well (the check system, not the fee system- the two are tied together but not the same system) then at least some, hopefully most, of these people won’t try to enter on as a visa waiver visitor and so won’t face this problem. There will obviously still be other problems and this system won’t be perfect- I never implied it would be- but for _these_ cases it’s an improvement.

56

Roy Belmont 06.26.08 at 3:53 am

“Such people are then kept in a holding cell at the airport”
They’re the anti-slaves, the people you don’t want anything to do with ever, the people you’ll beat and whip to ensure they stay away.
An improvement in these cases where “it’s expensive and unpleasant for everyone involved”.
Like rising gasoline prices are a disimprovement in those cases where…
What else is involved here – who cares?
Letting people into the country is the bestowal of a privilege, a particular gift by the system of particular admittance to the particular admitted, or not.
That these same arbitrary-seeming grantors have taken the seas right down to their deathbeds, removed songbirds from the daily lives of the common people – among many other heinous acts, and threaten close now to taking the whole biological thing down with them as they retire to extinction – that’s still not quite on the table as a legitimate topic. Why not? Because the them in that are in charge mostly are surrounded by courtiers who see which side their bread is buttered on, and don’t see much else.
The difference between self-gratification and the thrill of reproduction – to the wanker it’s pretty much a subliminal distinction.

57

Matt 06.26.08 at 4:22 am

Roy- I’m afraid I don’t have the slightest idea what your talking about.

58

e julius drivingstorm 06.26.08 at 5:28 am

Maurice and low-tech cyclist get my vote. But I think acronyms carry more weight. If it’s called the Travel Promotion Act, how about the TRAPMOTION act. Or is that an “anacronym”.

59

otto 06.26.08 at 6:33 am

Well, could be a sort of baptist-bootlegger tax on airtravel, which might be a small step re. global warming.

If it’s paid on-line by credit card, I fail to see how the admin costs can possibly as high as Henry suggests.

60

Alex 06.26.08 at 8:42 am

I think Air New Zealand has a route to Vancouver, or at least had.

61

antirealist 06.27.08 at 1:57 am

Air Canada now flies Vancouver-Sydney non-stop. No more middle of the night dealings with DHS in Honolulu.

62

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.27.08 at 3:28 am

Sweet. Thanks, Alex and Antirealist.

63

James Wimberley 06.27.08 at 11:24 am

I like negislation, and self-defeating is already available as an adjective. But for academic cred you need a poncey Greek formation, like Ernest Jones’ parapraxis for Freud’s elegant German coinage Fehlleistung. I suggest the adjective “paratelic” (para=against, telos=purpose): thus, a paratelic law, regulation or policy.

64

nick s 06.28.08 at 6:01 am

matt @55: mea culpa, my snark was misplaced — at least in your direction, not the USCIS’s.

Of course, regardless of the data protection concerns, the question is whether electronic waiver procedures will be bogged down by the same anachronisms (no, sir, I didn’t participate in the Holocaust, since I was born in the 70s) as the existing system.

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