Debate regarding the relevance and necessity of maritime cabotage laws, specifically the Jones Act, has been ignited in the months following the worst Caribbean Hurricane season in decades. Much of the debate in favor of repealing the law has been built on the false premise that the Jones Act has somehow acted as an impediment to the speed of recovery on a culturally corrupt island suffering from underlying infrastructure problems decades in the making.
The act was originally passed after America suffered the repercussions of a lack of preparedness that caused a delay in mobilizing a full response to surface warfare in the shipbuilding industry.
According to The Foundation of the U.S. Domestic Maritime Industry, the annual economic contribution of the Jones Act is $100 billion in total revenue including:
• $10 billion in tax revenue
• $29 billion in annual wages
• $46 billion to the value of U.S. economic output
• Creation of 500,000 jobs, since 1 shipyard job creates 4 others elsewhere in the economy
Any negligible impact that could have helped frame such an argument was mostly absent in the 10-day period in which the Jones Act was temporarily lifted as only one vessel applied for a waiver. At a Puerto Rico Oversight Board meeting, Rep. Garret Graves, Louisiana Republican, expressed a desire to move past casting any blame for the speed of the Puerto Rican recovery on the Jones Act to finding useful remedies to a persistent crisis with no easy fix.
“This has been fascinating listening to people talk about the Jones Act,” Mr. Graves said. “This entire thing is a farce. We can continue to sit here and make up solutions in search of problems or focus on real solutions that are needed.”
To unnecessarily hinder a vital cornerstone of not only our economy but our military in the name of shortsighted political opportunism could only be an example of the worst kind of crisis politicization. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel infamously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
The fact that the Jones Act provides benefits, both direct and indirect, to homeland security, immigration enforcement, and the protection of American jobs exposes its opponents as “break it to fix it” opportunists, oblivious to the potential negative ramifications of its repeal.
Regarding homeland security, the Jones Act ensures that the U.S. Navy can meet strategic sealift requirements and allow for the American shipbuilding industry to mobilize fully at a moment’s notice to fulfill wartime expectations. In terms of immigration enforcement, the fact that the Jones Act ensures that the owners, crew members and builders of ships transporting materials between two United States ports are American helps aid in reducing the entry of foreign invaders and undocumented migrants.
As long as the suffering in Puerto Rico continues, we will continue to hear these debates rage on. Some opponents of the Jones Act incorrectly argue cargo shipped in or out of Puerto Rico is required to be transported on Jones Act compliant vessels. Puerto Rico allows for cargo from around the world to be imported into the island. Over 60 percent of cargo-carrying ships docking in “La Isla del Encanto” are foreign vessels.
Some major investments in Puerto Rico are also at stake as Jones Act shippers currently account for over 1 billion dollars’ worth of investment on the island. The reported issues that stalled recovery efforts post Hurricane Maria were not related to supply shortages as Crowley, a major Jones Act compliant shipper had delivered more than 6,500 loads of FEMA and commercial cargo from 20 vessels as of late October 2017.
The ugly side of politics and attempts to distract from the systematic corruption in Puerto Rico has found a convenient scapegoat in the Jones Act. Truth be told, a repeal of the Jones Act would only weaken the economic prospects of some of the struggling island’s most fervent allies.
• Julio Rivera is the editorial director for ReactionaryTimes.com, a small business consultant, and a featured columnist at Newsmax.com.