Missing the point on the Jones Act

Earlier this month, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 orJones Act” as it is commonly referred to, turned 100 years old. For the last century, this important piece of legislation has ensured that at least one vital industry has not been exported in the name of nominal economic gains and wouldn’t contribute to the continuing marginalization of “America First” policy in the name of globalism -- shipbuilding.

Over the past several years, for one illogical reason or another, voices have sprung up from the proverbial “peanut gallery” calling for its repeal falsely in the name of the so-called “free market principles” that conservatives and libertarians like myself perpetually champion.

While some have made inconclusive points against the Jones Act regarding the economic impacts of its potential repeal, these arguments fail to acknowledge that the law is primarily intended to uphold national security interests and is not intended to help international fat cats eke out an extra percentage point or two in overall profit margins.

During the horrific hurricane season of 2017, the Jones Act was wrongly criticized as an obstruction to the delivery of much-needed supplies to the Hurricane Maria-ravaged island of Puerto Rico. The truth is, the Jones Act in absolutely no way obstructed the delivery of foreign imports to the island. Furthermore, during the period that the Jones Act was temporarily lifted in 2017, a grand total of only two vessels applied for a waiver.

But if there is one thing that we have learned from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is the importance of nationalism in regard to certain industries, especially those that pertain to the health and welfare of Americans, as well the ones that contribute immeasurably to our military readiness. 

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world on the heels of the signing of the historic new U.S.-China Phase One trade deal, we immediately saw what the problems that a complete handing off of the maritime shipping industry to China could eventually pose. Back in April, recently installed Chinese export restrictions had left U.S.- bound N95 face masks, test kits, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that was urgently needed to fight the coronavirus in a state of limbo in the communist country.

We are already behind the eight ball when it comes to the pharmaceutical, technological, and several other industries. President Trump, through his prioritization of American interests, has worked hard to revitalize several industries, including ones of strategic importance in the case of a possible military conflict, including a steel industry that America is still far too reliant on China for.

Waiving the white flag at Red China on the shipbuilding industry could potentially have devastating effects as U.S.-Sino relations continue to become more contentious as we learn the details surrounding the origins of what President Trump likes to call “the invisible enemy.”

The idea of protecting maritime trade as a cornerstone of national security and prosperity goes all the way back to the use of waterborne vessels as early as 4000 B.C., and in the embryonic stages of the United States it was noted by American thought leaders like Adam Smith, who wrote in The Wealth of Nations that it is of vital importance for a country to protect its maritime trade from foreign competitors.

The U.S. is reliant on three separate fleets of ships. The first, and without a doubt the most important, is the United States Navy. In America, we have built what is by far the world’s most powerful maritime force, and Federal laws prohibit outsourcing our fleet to foreign builders like China.

The second, are the more than 40,000 vessels that engage in trade domestically within the U.S. between American ports. These boats, like the ones belonging to the U.S. Navy, are American built, owned and crewed because of the Jones Act.

The third are the more than 41,000 transcontinental ships that move 90% of the world’s trade on container ships and tankers. Typically, they are rarely built, owned, or worked by American crews. Communist China as well as other Asian nations already dominate the construction of this fleet.

In 2020, a year that has been dominated by Murphy’s Law, American legislators need to ask themselves if they are really willing to allow the country that lied, covered-up, and misrepresented the details regarding the largest and farthest-reaching pandemic in 100 years, while withholding desperately needed, lifesaving supplies, to completely dominate global maritime trade. The answer should be a firm no.

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by websites including The Hill, Real Clear Politics, Townhall and American Thinker.