Jones Act Descended From Centuries of Lazy Protectionism


Blow up the Jones Act. It restricts trade, creates headaches, and is an antiquated bit (a large bit) of crony capitalism.

(From Bloomberg)


Repealing the so-called Jones Act, which is slowing desperately needed aid to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, is obviously the right thing to do. But the growing movement in Congress to scrap it — including Republican Senators John McCain and Mike Lee — should know that they’re entering treacherous legislative waters.

Formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the law stipulates that all goods entering and leaving Puerto Rico that have originated from other American ports (or are destined for American ports) must be carried aboard ships built, crewed, and registered in the U.S. Ever since, the island’s economy has strained under the weight of expensive imports.

But the Jones Act is not some kind of aberration or mistake; it’s just one small part of an obscure but entrenched body of jurisprudence known as cabotage law that goes back hundreds of years. The accumulated statutes and regulations associated with cabotage have yielded one the most restrictive shipping policies in the world, shielding nearly 75,000 jobs behind a protectionist wall.

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