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The hits keep coming for America’s ball-and-chain maritime Jones Act

The arguments in favor of this archaic, blatantly protectionist federal law are losing credibility with each passing day

Here are just a few of the news items and commentaries that have been published recently suggesting it is time to either update the Jones Act for the 21st century or retire it to the ash heap of history.

>> In The National Interest on June 3, writer Brent Sadler wrote that “as a maritime nation we have fallen far.” In his article titled “America is a maritime mess,” he said: “Change is needed, but because of the century of market distortions created by the Jones Act, a maritime Hippocratic oath of ‘do no harm’ is required ….”

>> In a May 13 post on X, Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis urged repeal of the Jones Act as one of three ways to “successfully reduce inflation.” The other two were “drop tariffs” and “create bipartisan fiscal commission (the signal alone will help reduce inflation).”

>> On May 7, Cato Institute trade policy analyst and Grassroot Scholar Colin Grabow wrote about how the Jones Act has contributed to the troubles of Washington state’s ferry system, which according to the Seattle Times canceled over 3,500 sailings last year and is reliably operating just 15 of its 21 vessels.

In comments that could apply to Hawaii’s experiences with ferry systems, Grabow identified the Jones Act and the 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act as the primary problems, since both require that vessels transporting goods or passengers, respectively, between U.S. ports must be built in the U.S., where they typically cost multiple times more than ships built overseas. Such restrictions, Grabow said, mean that “[Washington State Ferries] — in fact, all U.S. ferry systems — must provide service with one hand tied behind their backs.”

In addition, he said, the two protectionist maritime laws also require that most of the crews consist of Americans, which in today’s labor market is difficult to achieve. Indeed, Grabow said, a January report from Washington’s Department of Transportation pointed out that the state’s ferry system faces “severe staff shortages that are unprecedented in its 70‐year history.”

>> Also in May, CleanTechnica writer Michael Barnard wrote that “shifting freight to water in North America runs headlong into the combination of the Jones Act and the shift of heavy industry like shipbuilding to Asia. … The Jones Act’s noble intent to maintain a merchant cargo fleet that would serve as wartime logistics as it did in World War One [has] failed and … the act should be abandoned.”

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