Free Trade

Let's Scrap the Jones Act

A hundred-year-old protectionist law that makes traffic worse and goods more expensive.

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The Jones Act requires that any vessel sailing between American ports (including those in territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam) must be American-built, American-owned, and manned by an American crew flying the American flag. Passed as part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 under the pretense of national defense—the claim was that the U.S. shouldn't be in a position of having to rely on foreign ships during wartime—the Jones Act is just a protectionist racket that drives up costs.

Despite "the absence of any measurable benefits, the Jones Act has persisted for nearly 100 years," said the Cato Institute in a 2017 report. Why? "The small number of beneficiaries, which primarily include domestic shipyards and some labor unions, are more powerfully motivated to preserve the status quo than are the far more numerous adversely affected interests in seeking its repeal."

Here's an idea: Let's scrap it!

Written and performed by Andrew Heaton
Produced and edited by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg
Music: Happy Happy Game Show by Kevin MacLeod

 

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  1. The false conflation of US cabotage rules with EU cabotage rules is getting into ‘John Oliver Policy’ territory. Crossing the line from stupid funny to just stupid. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be repealing the Jones Act, but if we can conflate shipping between foreign nations within the EU to shipping within the US by foreign nations, then wouldn’t Hitler be the Zombie Ferdinand? As long as we can all laugh about whether Stalin represented a Nuclear Zombie Ferdinand and horse-war policy, then what do the actual details and distinctions of the Jones Act matter?

    1. John Oliver is the worst

    2. if we can conflate shipping between foreign nations within the EU to shipping within the US by foreign nations

      I think you leapt once too often. He directly compares intra-EU shipping with intra-US shipping. I agree it’s a silly comparison; a quick look at a map shows much more opportunity for intra-EU shipping. But he did NOT bring foreign shipping into the comparison.

      1. He directly compares intra-EU shipping with intra-US shipping.

        Right. This is a false comparison. Intra-EU shipping is international shipping. Intra-US shipping is not international. There is no effective direct comparison because there is no international shipping internal to the US. There are no boats flagged out of Florida or Texas in any meaningful way the way there are boats flagged out of Greece or France. The apt comparison would be to compare EU cabotage rules against non-EU members to US cabotage rules against foreign countries.

        Moreover, the misapplication of the analogy is reinforced by the comparison/contrasting of sea cargo to ground freight. Part of the reason why cargo shipping by boat is more popular in the EU is because ground shipping is so much more burdensome and costly. You can’t drive freight from Greece to Portugal as easily as you can drive it from Maine to California.

        The problem is further compounded by the absuridity that ground freight is more carbon intensive than sea cargo. Just absurdly untrue at all kinds of levels.

        Moreover, all part of my point. Making fun of legislators who deserve the derision while they mishandle Zoom meetings to figure out what to do about the Jones Act is funny. Pretending that it’s cheaper and easier to push cargo through the water than it is to roll it across the ground, because horse-cannons, is just dumb. To pretend, in the same context, that the motivation for the Jones Act between WWI and WWII was because European countries would skip out on shipping to the US, rather than being blockaded by Britain or, a decade later, sunk by U-boats, is just willful disinformation.

    3. The EU is a single market. You’re not, in effect, shipping between foreign nations when you’re shipping from port to to port within the single market.

      That’s the *point* of their single market. Its a single market. Treated like it was all one big country.

      1. By that I mean, to the member states of the EU, there is no difference between a ship flagged out of Greece to one flagged out of France.

      2. *Rubs temples*

        FFS, it’s false equivalence and it isn’t that hard. OK, I’ll make this simple; How many Chinese ships ferry cargo between the UK and various ports in the EU? Of the 40% of goods moved by boat within the EU, what percentage is moved by ships flagged outside the EU?

  2. But what does Trump say about the Jones Act. That’s all that matters anymore.

    If he aginit them I’m aginit.

    1. I oppose The Jones Act because cannon-horse-wars are old-timey and dumb. Better?

    2. No, your TDS-addlement is the major issue here, asshole

    3. Jesus dude – get a therapist or something and discuss your incessant need to discuss Trump. It’s honestly strange how often you bring up Trump in conversations which have nothing to do with him.

  3. GFY, Reason Liberaltarians now love all laws based on their supposed Good Intentions from back when they were passed. Ot doesnt matter the unforseen negative consequences to our liberty
    Look no further than our founding document Sec 230, given to us by God thru his chosen instrument the Founding Fathers and enshrined in the Constitution by unanimous SCOTUS Superprecedent.

  4. the pretense of national defense—the claim was that the U.S. shouldn’t be in a position of having to rely on foreign ships during wartime

    Is the claim false or true?

    1. If that actually was a good claim, then the results should have repealed the Jones act decades ago.

      1. Regardless of whether it’s true or false, shouldn’t that be the center of the argument for repealing it. Not whether it makes shipping more expensive during peace.

        AFAIK the last war we fought where the merchant marine played a role in the fighting as well (ie hostile waters) was WW2 – 245,000 served, 9,500 killed – a higher casualty rate than any service.

        I’m not eager for the US to ever fight in the Old World. But I’m pretty sure that if we do, the oceans are still there and the Navy doesn’t carry cargo on carriers.

        1. And one of the biggest problems with the Jones Act is that it doesn’t even accomplish what it set out to do. It was intended to support a domestic maritime industry and a robust American merchant marine. Instead, people stopped putting stuff on ships and started putting it on trucks and trains, which are useless at delivering war supplies across oceans. If war broke out, the miniscule American merchant marine would be about as helpful to the war effort as not having one at all.

          If we actually wanted a robust merchant marine, we need to loosen a lot of the rules, so they can be competitive. It shouldn’t cost twice as much for a Jones compatible ship as a non-compliant ship. It is unfathomable if the claim that American ships cost 8 times as much is true.

          1. Instead, people stopped putting stuff on ships and started putting it on trucks and trains, which are useless at delivering war supplies across oceans. If war broke out, the miniscule American merchant marine would be about as helpful to the war effort as not having one at all.

            Again, the Jones Act should be repealed but the argument being made is very much like Trump’s argument in favor of coal. There is effectively no maritime shipping between Florida and California because it’s fundamentally faster and cheaper to drive or fly it there. The only way to fix it would be to enact (more) burdensome regulation on ground and air freight and the same extends to any war time efforts. It would be cheaper and easier to fly the cargo into Britain or Germany and let them decide how to ship it from there. Rather jesting at how antiquated the Jones Act is and then literally trying to make the case that maritime shipping is or should be as relevant as it was before transcontinental highways or powered flight.

            1. No, you just take the restrictions off sea shipping and then let things settle out to where they’d be naturally.

              1. Again, I’m not saying the Jones Act shouldn’t be repealed. I’m saying the argument that “Because of the Jones Act, US only uses maritime vessels to ship 4% of its freight internally while the EU uses 40%.” is specious reasoning. The US, internally, has had more liberalized shipping for more of it’s history than the EU has had ever. When the EU liberalized cabotage, they liberalized to our internal standard.

                Moreover, national defense is arguably a valid function of government. The Jones Act is overly broad, but there’s a very valid interest in ensuring that every boat in and out of (e.g.) Guam isn’t built, flagged, and staffed by China. Especially when China and Europe aren’t discussing giving up their cabotage laws and China relaxed theirs selectively to debase Hong Kong.

                I wouldn’t feel the need to make any of the above points if we had a more reasonable discussion, like past Jones Act articles, but this one was exceptionally bad. Ignorant of even trivial history and full of false equivalences in support of, not an ethos, but a specific policy position. And I get it, it’s Reason’s comedy team, it’s not supposed to be an in depth analysis. But that’s the point I made originally, it’s “John Oliver Policy” where advocacy of terrible ideas for terrible reasons gets a pass because it’s *supposed* to be funny.

          2. If we actually wanted a robust merchant marine, we need to loosen a lot of the rules, so they can be competitive.

            By default, I don’t believe what Cato/Reason advocates re policy. They are too orthodox nd ideological to analyze anything – and too silent about the likely cronies that would corrupt what they advocate.

            I suspect Jones Act has three very different effects – in blue water (ocean), green water (coastal), brown water (internal river barges). Looking at a freight volume map – the Mississippi River gets a ton of barge traffic (prob grains). doesn’t look like much green water traffic and the blue stuff to Hawaii/Pr/Alska/Guam wouldn’t show.

            The merchant marine effect idk. Shipyards would be very different but methinks crew could quickly shift over. What I do know is that when Cato talks about ‘competitive’, they mean gut the entire industry, hire foreign crews, save a few bucks for some (always fucking unnamed) cronies – and if war starts, well FYTW. Maybe you mean something different.

        2. The Navy has the USNS.

          And as you mention the Merchant Marine – those guys were churning out ships faster than the Nazis could sink them.

          They can do it again if needed.

          No need to keep in place a protectionist law that does the opposite of what it claims to do and actively harms ‘national security’.

          1. No need to keep in place a protectionist law that does the opposite of what it claims to do and actively harms ‘national security’.

            This alone is the justification. Not because it’s old-timey, not because somebody lied and said European ports are more free than the US, not because our internal maritime freight volume should be 40% of total freight rather than 4%. It does the opposite of what it was supposed to do and isn’t narrow/flexible enough to do what we need it to do.

          2. Agammamon,
            No they can’t turn out ships faster than they can be sunk. We don’t have the industry or infrastructure for it anymore.

          3. “They can do it again if needed”
            They can’t do it without fairly complicated and specialized equipment. Once the facilities are razed, drydocks filled in, and the equipment sold for scrap, it becomes a lot harder to build or maintain our ships.
            Besides which, there won’t even be a “they” anymore to build them. When the shipyards close, all those people who have been passing on specialized knowledge through apprenticeships and actual on the job training will be gone.
            If the US ships go, so will the mariners who run them. Once again, it is fairly specialized training, and cannot be learned by watching a few YouTube videos.
            Having the Chinese build and crew all the cargo ships, and I suppose build and maintain our naval vessels, might be a money saving plan in the short term. Of course that gives them tremendous leverage over us. Which they may well decide to use.

    2. 1. Its not an either/or claim. Its a policy decision.

      2. The Jones Act hasn’t made us self-sufficient in shipping. In fact, over time, its ensured there is *less* American shipping *and* that we can’t rely on foreign shipping in times of emergencies.

      1. In fact, over time, its ensured there is *less* American shipping *and* that we can’t rely on foreign shipping in times of emergencies.

        You seem either terribly confused or wilfully obtuse about this whole issue. There is less American shipping *between American ports* not less *shipping into the US*. Moreover, less shipping into the US is a viable sign of self-sufficiency. Either way, the Jones Act doesn’t apply to strictly international trade routes where the total volume of freight has only gone up since the Jones Act was enacted. French ships bring Chinese goods to US ports at volumes never before seen in any of the three nations’ histories.

        The reason for less shipping between American ports is many-fold and the Jones Act, while onerous to PR, Guam, and HI, has very little to do with it and has much more to do with with fundamental physics and geography (it’s why countries like Russia, China, Canada, and Mexico have similar maritime shipping proportions while balkanized peninsulas like Europe and the ones all over the S. Pacific don’t). The US that can ship freight over land between FL and TX during hurricane season is more self-sufficient than the US that can’t ship freight between FL and TX during hurricane season whether the ships are flagged out of the US or not. The idea that allowing British or European or Asian ships to cabotage between FL and TX somehow makes us more self-sufficient than simply shipping by cheaper, faster, easier, and safer/more effective methods is abject stupidity.

  5. I had a better idea, Andy, I “Scrapped” you.

  6. Can we get ethanol out of gasoline, too?

  7. Gilligan!!!

    1. Captain Obvious.

  8. Andrew does not notice that prohibitionist fanatic Wesley Livsey Jones wrote a second Jones Law that passed March 2, 1929, just 2 days before Herbert Hoover’s dry “new race” inauguration. This “Increased Penalties Act” with a sentencing guideline of 5 years on a chain gang for weak beer, plus a fine in gold now worth $600,000 guaranteed the Great Depression. On March 26, shortly after Republican President Hoover met with Jones, taxpayer Al Capone was cited and “Stock Market Crash” entered the vernacular.

    1. Don’t conflate ‘didn’t talk about something that wasn’t relative to the topic at hand’ with ‘does not notice’.

      1. Hank is as deranged as your average city park dweller. Just ignore and let him converse with himself

        1. There’s a bright man there, but I just can’t relate what he’s saying to the topic.

    2. Sooo…Mare eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat Livsey?

  9. What a concidence that Wesley Livsey Jones wrote a second Jones Law that passed 2 days before Herbert Hoover’s dry “new race” inauguration. With a chaingang sentence of 5 years for light beer, plus $600,000 in today’s gold coins, the Great Depression had to happen. Republican President Hoover soon met with Jones, taxpayer Al Capone was cited and “Stock Market Crash” entered the vernacular while Republicans struggled to ignore the link.

  10. Wait, we’re getting Heaton videos again? Hallelujah!

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