Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Annals of Bad Regulations

It’s a shame anti-regulation folk spend so much time on the contentious, controversial regulation (which always and easily devolve into arguments about how these anti-regulation folk just want to help the rich) when there are a fair number of regulations that serve little purpose at all. Here’s a Slate article about the difficulty of attracting tourists to the U.S.—unless you’re a citizen of the roughly three dozen countries whose visa requirements are waived, you have to go through an onerous visa process:
Brazil is a great example of the hassles travelers have to endure to secure visas, says Melissa Froehlich Flood, vice president of government affairs at Marriott International. There are only four consular offices in the entire 3.3 million-square-mile country, and scheduling an interview at one of them can take upward of 90 days. The USTA estimates that a Brazilian family seeking to vacation in the United States would have to shell out $2,600 just to get visas if they lived in Manaus, a 2,054-mile drive from the Embassy in Brasilia. That's $2,600 spent on travel before the trip even begins. After that, there's another wait of two to three weeks while the visa is actually processed. Faced with these kinds of demands, it's perhaps not surprising that the rapidly growing middle classes in many emerging markets choose to vacation elsewhere. The slow process hurts hotels, restaurants, stores, and other businesses at which tourists spend their money. It's also a hindrance to American exporters, since there's no way to fast-track the visa of a businessperson who wants to come to the United States to purchase American-made goods…Unfortunately, some of our biggest potential tourism markets—China, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and India—aren't part of the visa-waiver program.

The regular logic of regulation and lobbies doesn’t really apply here; you’d imagine tourism-related businesses would be eager to expand the number of countries eligible for visas, and yet the tightness of the list seems to indicate otherwise. The countervailing force—anti-terrorism hysteria—would seem to augur otherwise, except it’s not as if the hysteria is focusing on the pressing issue of visas into the countries. I suppose bureaucrats are a risk-averse lot by nature, but still: it’s quite silly and counterproductive and where oh where are the libertarians when we need them?

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