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Friday, March 05, 2010

$509 Billion!! Er - wait

This article reports that our Senior Lecturer, i.e., the President, has signed some legislation or executive order that empowers the federal government to charge visitors to the United States $10 in order to tell all the rest of the people in the world how great it is to come visit the United States.

Notwithstanding the principle involved the article has the following statement:
The U.S. Travel Association calls it a major step in addressing the drop-off in such visits to the U.S. during the past decade. The association says the U.S. welcomed 2.4 million fewer overseas visitors last year than in 2000. And that, the group says, has cost it an estimated $509 billion in total spending and $32 billion in direct tax receipts.
The statement is clearly not correct. As $509 billion divided by 2.4 million equals $212,803 per tourist. That cannot be right. However, if the statement is mixing annual declines in visits with a decade of lost spending, this would reduce the spending per tourist to something close to $20,000 per tourist which is also clearly not correct.

Perhaps the decimal point is in the wrong place? If, instead of $509 billion, the story was supposed to read $50.9 billion AND the total was for the decade of the 2000s, then this would reduce the per-tourist average spending to close to $2,000 which is somewhat more believable (after all, that is close to what I spend in a week in Europe and who am I?).

One problem with the current administration (and others as well, but this is the one that is running the show now) is their propensity to use numbers that are clearly out of whack with intuition and perhaps visible reality. Assuming that the American people are innumerate is generally not a bad assumption. However, eventually the crazy numbers would seem likely to penetrate even the most innumerate of us.

For example, claiming that millions of jobs were "saved or created" is impossible to prove or disprove and is clearly crass politics. Claims that there have been 65,000 new or saved transportation related jobs in the state of Georgia due to the Recovery and Reinvestment act may or may not be true but it is difficult for the average Georgian (or person traveling through Georgia) to believe because there doesn't seem to be that much activity on the roads to justify such a number. One out is to claim that many of the jobs are "behind the scenes" and therefore out of the view of the average citizen, but sunlight is important to detecting misleading evidence on how many jobs are actually being created.

In the case of tourism, it would seem important to do the same. However, before we get out the cleansing sunlight perhaps we can get someone who can operate a calculator - perhaps this is why our deficits/debt is out of control?

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