The Jones Act

The Jones Act bans foreign vessels from carrying freight between US ports. But, because US-flagged vessels are typically more expensive, businesses have had to devise work-arounds. For example, to ship goods from Hawaii to the mainland, companies hire foreign-flagged vessels and route them through Vancouver, so they never travel directly between US ports.

While the intent is to ensure a vibrant US maritime industry, its unintended consequences give me pause. It's not clear that the threat to national security outweighs the countervailing economic interests. Is it worth bearing these costs to hedge against the US being cut off from the rest of the world?

The statute impedes the delivery of disaster relief at home, during national emergencies, leading both Bush and Obama to institute temporary waivers. And, it significantly increases the price of shipping food aid to the developing world.