Jones Act 2.0

Don’t mend it, end it

IN THIS ever new country of innovation and creative destruction, of upheaval and transformation, of new gadgets and new thinking, for some reason the Jones Act hangs on. Year after year. In fact, it’s been holding on since 1920. Yes, in less than three years America will “celebrate” its 100th anniversary. When this law was passed, women weren’t allowed to vote in national elections in the United States. This thing ain’t new.

The Jones Act—aka the Merchant Marine Act of 1920—is a relic of another time, an artifact that needs to be dug up, then thrown away. All it seems to be good for is making goods and fuel more expensive for our fellow Americans.

This tattered legislation requires that all goods moving between U.S. ports and territories be carried by American-made ships crewed by American officers and deckhands. Which makes this kind of shipping the most expensive in the world. It’s a union’s dream! No foreign competition.

But there’s a reason why president after president has to suspend the law when hurricanes hit the Caribbean or the Gulf Coast. Without the current president’s suspension of the law last month, a rebuilding Puerto Rico would be paying out the nose for gas and water. Just as it does year-round.

So why not end it?

The history books say the Merchant Marine Act of 1920—named after its sponsor Sen. Wesley Jones of Seattle—was passed between the wars in part to keep up, protect and maintain the merchant marine. Because you never knew when the Germans might send a sub this way. The merchant marine is still a vital part of the transportation pipeline for this country, but we think the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard could probably handle any war-time emergencies these days. In other modern emergencies, when the nation’s civilian ships are called upon, the Jones Act has to be suspended! See the recent hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico.

Legislation is stalled in Congress to allow this old law to die a quiet death. Mainly because of congressmen who represent American seaports. The American Maritime Partnership, which represents ship owners in America, spent $1.1 million on lobbying last year.

The paper quoted one mariner from California the other day: “The Jones Act is pretty much the only reason I have a job.” Well, yes, if the government requires these kinds of regulations, and your fellow Americans have to pay a pretty penny to subsidize it.

Listen to an old Navy man, who knows a thing or two about Washington regulations and the power of government. His name is John McCain: “For years, I have fought to fully repeal the Jones Act, which has long outlived its purpose to the benefit of special interests.” He called it what it was, “an antiquated, protectionist law that has driven up the costs and crippled Puerto Rico’s economy.”

Not to mention making Hawaiians pay $4.17 for a gallon of gas.

Ninety-seven years is plenty. Let’s repeal and replace this Jones Act before the centennial.

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