As we head into hurricane season, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Southeast will be on high alert given the damage that a hurricane can inflict. While we all hope for a mild hurricane season, there is no way to guarantee it. But one thing I can guarantee is that if a hurricane makes landfall in Puerto Rico, the potential tragedy will be used to justify attacks on the Jones Act.
The Jones Act, or more precisely, the "Merchant Marine Act of 1920," simply requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be shipped on American vessels crewed by Americans.
It does not limit foreign vessels from bringing goods to U.S. ports.
It prevents foreign ships from carrying cargo directly between two or more U.S. ports.
How do I know that opponents will blame any tragedy they can on the Jones Act?
Because last year when Puerto Rico was savagely hit with hurricane damage, the all too predictable response was to blame the Jones Act for the slow recovery — even though within hours after the hurricane had moved off shore, Jones Act ships were moving vital cargo to Puerto Rico — including food, water, medicine, fuel, and other relief cargo.
The relief effort was so impressive that Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association president Rodrigo Masses said Puerto Rico received "2,500 shipping containers with food and other items [immediately after the storm], and thus Puerto Rico should not lack supplies."
It turned out that the biggest challenge was distributing the relief goods from the port throughout the island because of damaged roadways, electrical and communication outages, and trucker shortages. But that cannot be blamed on the Jones Act.
Beyond last year’s practical evidence, a recent study conducted by Reeve & Associates and Estudios Tecnicos, Inc. concluded that the Jones Act has no harmful impact on either retail prices or the cost of living in Puerto Rico. Shipping rates to Puerto Rico, where the Jones Act applies, were lower or very similar to the shipping rates to other neighboring islands that are not covered by the Jones Act. Additionally, foreign vessels can deliver goods directly to Puerto Rico and 57 perecent of San Juan’s port traffic in 2016 was, in fact, foreign vessels.
The results of this recent econometrics study should come as no surprise as an earlier Government Accountability Office (GAO) study came to the same conclusion — that the Jones Act does not cost Puerto Rico, but rather provides it with a modern, cost effective shipping capability.
Frontiers of Freedom, the organization I head, created a basket of consumer goods, including things like — food, toilet paper, dish detergent, toothpaste, paper towels, spices, aluminum foil, etc. We priced these items in Orlando, Miami, and Houston and compared them to the prices in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This study revealed that the basket of goods cost the same regardless of location — rebutting, once again, the weary claim that the Jones Act increases costs.
Sadly, if there were 1,000 such studies finding that the Jones Act does no economic harm to Puerto Rico, the zeal of some opponents would still not be reduced. So be prepared for the silly-fest that will follow any hurricane news. Any bad news coming from Puerto Rico will likely be blamed on the Jones Act. I half-suspect that if unwed teen pregnancies were to increase or if high school student’s reading comprehension test scores decline, someone will blame the Jones Act.
Beyond doing no harm to Puerto Rico, the Jones Act provides some very important homeland security benefits to the entire United States and insures that our military has a robust merchant marine sea lift capability and ship building and repair industry.
Because of the Jones Act, foreign flagged ships with unknown and unvetted foreign crews cannot deliver goods to New Orleans and then sail up the Mississippi deep into the American heartland claiming to be making other deliveries while we would have no way to know if terrorists or other bad actors had infiltrated the crew.
Additionally, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul J. Selva, explains, "I am an ardent supporter of the Jones Act. It supports a viable ship building industry, cuts costs and produces 2,500 qualified mariners. Why would I tamper with that?"
If the military were to build, maintain and man its own cargo ship fleet for carrying all the supplies that our troops need around the world, it would cost $65 billion. Where is that money supposed to come from?
So when opponents of the Jones Act begin to jabber again, as they assuredly will, remember these facts — because facts are stubborn things — (i) the Jones Act does not harm Puerto Rico in any way; (ii) it protects America’s homeland, (iii) it guarantees that our military has the critical sealift capability, including thousands of trained and seasoned mariners that it needs; and (iv) it provides the necessary ship building and ship repairing industry required to have a world class navy.
The facts all point in one direction — the Jones Act is good for America and for Puerto Rico!
George Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. To learn more about Frontiers of Freedom, visit www.ff.org. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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