A truly terrible law which needs to go, now. Credit Ashoka Jegroo CC By SA 4.0

The Jones Act is a protectionist measure which states that cargo between American ports may only be carried by American owned, American crewed and American built ships. The Jones Act protects American shipbuilders, owners and seamen – and crucifies American consumers. Thus the Jones Act should go, that’s clear enough. For the purpose of an economy is to make consumers as well off as possible given the constraints reality imposes upon us. No, not producers, consumers.

I’ve been known to make this point before:

Given what day it is we ought to think up something to offer as a present to the grateful nation. My suggestion is the abolition of the Jones Act. This is the law that says that all transport by sea between US ports must be carried out on US ships. They must be US built, of US steel, crewed by Americans. This leads to ships themselves costing 3-4 times more than if they were built in yards in other countries and leads to shipping costs being around twice what they would be in the absence of the act. As to why it should be abolished, well, that’s obvious from the preceding. But as to why it should be abolished as a birthday present to the nation, well, it was the imposition of something very like this by the English which actually precipitated the Revolutionary War and thus the birthday itself.

The English placed strict limitations on who could carry the trade of the colonies.

Those Navigation Acts were one of the enumerated reasons for the revolt – treasonous as it was until it succeeded at which point none dare call it treason – and it’s truly weird that the newly* liberated nation imposes them upon itself.

Almost a century later, there are no U-boats lurking off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has outlived its original intent, yet it is strangling the island’s economy.

Under the law, any foreign registry vessel that enters Puerto Rico must pay punitive tariffs, fees and taxes, which are passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer.

The foreign vessel has one other option: It can reroute to Jacksonville, Fla., where all the goods will be transferred to an American vessel, then shipped to Puerto Rico where — again — all the rerouting costs are passed through to the consumer.

Thanks to the law, the price of goods from the United States mainland is at least double that in neighboring islands, including the United States Virgin Islands, which are not covered by the Jones Act. Moreover, the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13 percent higher than in 325 urban areas elsewhere in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to half that of Mississippi, the poorest of all 50 states.

This is a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market.

As I’ve remarked:

Not waiving the Jones Act allows American shipowners and crew to continue to price gouge Puerto Rico.

Despite two hurricanes.

Consistency isn’t one of those things which happens in special interest politics, is it?

Union backed gouging must be allowed to continue that is. But now we’ve got this:

As North Carolina grapples with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, transportation officials in the state are attempting to secure the use of a U.S. government-owned vessel, the Cape Ray, to transport supplies to the port of Wilmington. With the city temporarily transformed into an island by recent flooding, the roll-on, roll-off ship—or “ro-ro” in maritime parlance—will enable trucks filled with needed goods to drive aboard.

It’s a good thing the ship is government-owned—under private ownership the Cape Ray’s provision of relief supplies would be illegal. This absurd situation is due to a nearly 100-year-old law called the Jones Act.

There are no Jones Act ro-ro ships available. There are plenty of non-Jones Act ones. Note that this is an emergency, we’ve an entire city cut off an at least temporarily dependent upon the right sort of shipping being available. Oh, and the reason for the Jones Act?

The Jones Act’s stated purpose is to ensure that the United States “shall have a merchant marine of the best equipped and most suitable types of vessels sufficient to carry the greater portion of its commerce and serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency.” But when faced with a genuine emergency, such as Hurricane Maria in 2017 or Hurricane Florence today, the Jones Act fleet is often found wanting.

Kill the Jones Act, kill it now and kill it dead. Impale its heart upon a wooden stake, cut its head off, a slice of lemon between the jaws, quarter the body and bury the pieces at different crossroads and then burn it to scatter the ashes.

Seriously, kill the Jones Act.

*Newly might be doing a bit of work there but come on, a couple of hundred years for a nation is nothing. It’s younger than Jane Austen for example, only half a decade older than my apartment, it’s several centuries younger than the pool I learned to swim in**.

** The Cross Bath, Bath. 

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