How to Change the Jones Act
The Grassroot Institute has just released its latest study on the Jones Act, the 1920's legislation that drives up the cost of shipping. Our report is also a convenient introduction to understanding this issue that heavily impacts Hawaii.
For those of us who have been working to bring change to the Jones Act, realistically there is almost nothing that can be done from Hawaii (or from Puerto Rico, for that matter) to impact the Jones Act.
Say what you will about it, but the Jones Act has proven to be a remarkably resilient piece of legislation. At nearly 100 years old, it is still able to defeat reform efforts … despite a mountain of evidence that it cripples the economy, fails to achieve its aims and is badly in need of modernization.
As the metaphorical canaries in the Jones Act coal mine, citizens in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the non-contiguous territories of the U.S. have been some of the loudest champions of reform. Unfortunately, both geographic and political realities mean that an effective reform movement cannot come solely from such exotic places. Even so worthy a poster child as Puerto Rico, with its disparate Jones Act impact, is at a loss for generating sympathy or even much interest in Washington, DC.
What we need to alter the Jones Act is a national and nationwide effort to get Congress to act. Such an enterprise calls for a broad coalition of state policymakers, industry stakeholders, and political influencers at all levels.
To win, we must show how the Jones Act is not a Hawaii problem or a Puerto Rico problem -- it's a national problem with a nationwide impact. That is why the Grassroot Institute is researching how the Jones Act affects the cost of living and the cost of business in all fifty states.
So with all the economic arguments against the Act, what keeps it in place?
The primary argument used by Jones Act defenders is national security. It’s a powerful one, even if it is based in nineteenth-century military theory. The problem, as the decline of the American shipping industry and shipbuilders demonstrates, is that the Act has failed in its national security objectives.
But what really keeps the Jones Act afloat is not ideology, but money.
Though reform of the Act is not a strictly partisan issue, the biggest opponent to reform is a partisan coalition representing the maritime industry (and its money), including strong representation from organized labor.
What is needed for effective change is a coalition of reformers, armed with evidence that the Jones Act costs American jobs and hurts American consumers… and money.
E hana kakou (Let's work together!),
Keli'i Akina, Ph.D.
Related: Research surveys Jones Act costs and effects