Sales in National Review Online: Corporate Welfare for Mickey Mouse

Passage of the Travel Promotion Act (TPA) by the Senate this month amounts to a form of "corporate welfare for Mickey Mouse," says Professor Nathan Sales, and it might well have the unintended effect of discouraging travel to the U.S.

The TPA directs the Department of Homeland Security to impose a $10 fee on foreigners who visit the U.S. under the visa-waiver program. Those fees will fund a new nonprofit known as the Corporation for Travel Promotion, which will promote travel to America via multimillion dollar ad campaigns.

Sales says the TPA is "a stark example of mission creep." He points out that the DHS online registry used in the visa-waiver program was designed  to help authorities identify potential terrorists before they reach U.S. soil. Instead, he says, the system is being used to raise revenue for the benefit of big business.

"The TPA is redistribution at its most rank; it is a regressive tax. Wealthy and powerful corporations will have their pockets lined with money fleeced from travelers—many of who are of modest means, and all of whom, as non-citizens, have no voice in the American political process," Sales explains, adding that we should not be using a national security program "to enrich the travel industry at the expense of its guests."

Corporate Welfare for Mickey Mouse, National Review Online, October 5, 2009. By Nathan A. Sales.

"The TPA surcharge could discourage people from visiting this country. A German family of four planning a winter vacation in Florida is already on the hook for hundreds of dollars in checked-bag fees, extra-legroom fees, security fees, passport fees, and so on. Will they be eager to shell out another $40? It may not seem like much, but they could spend that money on sunscreen and sunglasses, a picnic on the beach, or a rental car for a day. The family might decide to scrap Florida and head for the Spanish coast instead.

"American travelers stand to lose, too. Some countries in Europe are already threatening to retaliate with fees of their own. Europe is even thinking about restricting visa-free travel for some Americans. That means American tourists and businessmen could have to dig a little deeper into their wallets for their next trip to Paris, or even stand in line at the French consulate to get a visa first.

"Disney World, Delta Airlines, and other players in the travel industry are rational actors. If they think ads will bring in more business, they’ll run them on their own. They don’t need a government handout to persuade them to pursue their self-interest.

"Indeed, travel companies could always tack $10 surcharges onto their own price tags. But after watching the airlines take heat when they started charging for checked bags and in-flight meals, the industry apparently decided it’s better to let the government do the dirty work. Angry travelers will blame DHS for the fee, or maybe the United States as a whole, instead of the businesses that profit from the TPA. The costs are socialized, the benefits are privatized."