Our dear friends in the Indiana General Assembly continue to support the idea that tourism should be a state-subsidized industry. It is bad enough that we subsidize biotechnology and the Indianapolis Colts, even though we would object if any of the Colts used some of that good biotech to enhance performance.
The first problem with tourism is that it creates very few well-paid jobs. Most jobs in tourism make our workers servants to other people who leave their towels on the floor and spill coffee all over the bedsheets.
Even if the industry comes up with most of the money, why does the state have a director and an Office of Tourism Development? The state needs to create the environment in which businesses can prosper. First and foremost, this means a well-educated, well-motivated work force. It is not our government’s role to promote specific types of business. Thus, any public penny spent on tourism is a misallocation of resources.
The second problem is that tourism brings people here. Not just any sort of people, but tourists. What do tourists look like? Go to Washington, D.C., and walk on the Mall. You will see them there with their short shorts, bellies hanging out of tank tops that are covered with food stains. Do we want those people wandering Indiana even if they do bring money?
The third problem is what tourists want to see. Whatever it is, we don’t have it. Will a high-volume dairy at Interstate 65 and State Road 14 draw folks away from their intended path as they go to or from
Chicago? “Hey, Dad; let’s stop here. It’s supposed to be an utter delight!” Agri-tourism is another idea that should be allowed to simmer on the back burner.
If we want tourists, the industry must create sights and sites. For example, is the industry financing historians at our state universities to prove that Benjamin Harrison was the greatest president of them all?
Since so few Americans know anything about U.S. history, couldn’t we have exhibits showing how Harrison freed the slaves, invented electricity and converted the Indians to baseball? Do Americans know that Buckeye-born, Hoosier Harrison created the Federal Highway Administration and thereby established one of the truly great lobbies?
Could we capitalize on our famous businesses? Why not build a fun park where drugs are offered for people to discover side effects? By now, every male in America wants to know if Cialis will have a four-hour sustained influence on him.
What about an annual run of legislative bullies through the streets of Logansport? Why not a Karl Maudlin film festival in Lake County? A Crystal Guile country music festival in Wabash? A John Melloncup pitch-in at Seymour devoted to incomprehensible music for adolescents? How about a Milton Marcus museum of economic fallacies?
What makes the whole idea of promoting tourism so ironic is that our esteemed state legislators have been busy authorizing higher innkeeper taxes, which make staying at Indiana hotels and motels more expensive. They also have favored higher taxes on restaurants. Don’t they understand that these efforts will decrease the interest of tourists to visit Indiana? Or is their plan to offset the lower tax revenue by higher spending on tourism promotion?
If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to search the ‘Net for proof that Dan Quayle invented e-mail, designed the first printed paper towel, and was born in a log cabin. After all, that museum in Huntington should be a mecca for some true believers.
Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.