When the corporate conservatives and globalist liberals agree on an issue, it rarely benefits the American worker. Case in point: the recent calls to weaken or repeal the Jones Act, which requires that the domestic shipping is conducted on American owned and built ships with U.S. citizen crews.
Heeding Rahm Emanuel’s adage to "never let a serious crisis go to waste,” the establishment Left and Right used Hurricane Maria to promote a policy which would enrich foreign corporations at the expense of America’s working class and manufacturing base. The op-ed pages of National Review and New York Times both blamed the Jones Act for Puerto Rico’s slow recovery on the law. The embodiment of bipartisan globalism, John McCain, introduced legislation to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, because it “makes disaster response harder.”
In reality, the Jones Act had no effect on the response to Hurricane Maria. President Trump waived the law for ten days and only one ship took advantage of the exemption to deliver FEMA Aid. Prior to the waiver, there was no shortage of American vessels shipping supplies to Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the island’s already weak infrastructure was further damaged by the hurricane, making it impossible to distribute supplies inland. There were tens of thousands of containers of relief supplies sitting at the port, with no trucks to pick them up.
Concern for Puerto Rico’s welfare is just a fig leaf for promoting globalist trade policies. Just two months before the hurricane, McCain introduced legislation to completely repeal the Jones Act because it represents a “protectionist mentality” which “hinders free trade.”
Of course, the American people elected Donald Trump for his “protectionist mentality,” which prioritizes the wages and jobs of American workers above free trade ideology. The president wants a trade policy that “can bring jobs back to America’s shores, increase wages, and support U.S. manufacturing.”
Weakening the Jones Act would do the opposite. China, Japan, and South Korea manufacturer almost all commercial vessels, and have already weakened the U.S. shipbuilding industry. They did not beat us by ingenuity or better products, but through lower wages and government subsidies.
The Korean and Japanese industries received billions in state support during the 1980s, as the American and European industries declined. China even offers a nearly 20 percent subsidy for international ship purchases.
According to a study in Maritime Economics & Logistics, shipbuilding wages in China are less than 1/10 of those in First World economies, even with its recent growth. While South Korea and Japan have relatively higher wages, they routinely transfer "production sites for these vessels to low-wage nations," as a report by the Samsung Economic Research Institute notes.
Foreign crews also undercut American wages. European and Asian shipping companies will register their vessels in third world countries like Liberia and Equatorial Guinea under a “flag of convenience” to avoid labor laws and regulations. A Department of Transportation study found that U.S. crews wages were over five times higher than foreign crews, who are sometimes paid less than two dollars and hour. Without the Jones Act, American seamen and shipbuilders will receive dramatically lower wages or the shipping industry will be completely decimated.
Beyond harming American workers, this jeopardizes our national security. Congress enacted the law, formally known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, in the wake of World War I. Prior to U.S. entry, the European countries used their merchant fleets for the War and there were American vessels to take their place. Then after the U.S. joined the Allied Powers, we did not have not enough domestic ships to transport supplies and even soldiers to Europe.
In response, Senator Wesley Jones (R-WA) introduced the law to ensure that our domestic fleet was “sufficient to carry the waterborne domestic commerce and a substantial part of the waterborne export and import foreign commerce of the United States” and “capable of serving as a naval and military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency.”
This concern is just as applicable today. Even if we do not get into a military conflict with China, allowing such a vital industry to be completely dominated by foreign powers will allow them to hold us hostage whenever there is a natural disaster or war, just as we are completely dependent upon Russia to get supplies to the International Space Station.
The Jones Act incentivizes U.S. companies to expand trade routes as well as harbor improvements. If the industry collapses, there’s no reason to think foreign firms will pick up the slack, and our infrastructure will suffer as a result.
Donald Trump won the presidency on an America First trade policy. Attempts to weaken or repeal it will undermine the inroads the Trump led GOP made in the Rust Belt and Florida. More importantly, it will undermine our workers and our national security.
Bay Buchanan is chairman of the American Cause. She previously served as 37th Treasurer of the United States in the Reagan Administration, and campaign manager for Pat Buchanan and Tom Tancredo's presidential campaigns. She is the author of the books "The Extreme Makeover of Hillary (Rodham) Clinton" and "Bay and Her Boys." To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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