The Mickey Tax

by Henry Farrell 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