By Jerry Fraser
As a matter of ideology, free markets hold up better in the classroom than they do in the real world. Repealing the Jones Act’s construction provisions, as Sen. John McCain is proposing, is consistent with the libertarian notions many of us harbor. But it’s not a libertarian world we live in. In fact, when it comes to global shipbuilding, government involvement is the rule. Thus we have China’s emergence as a shipbuilding power.
Critics label the Jones Act “protectionist” as if that were a venomous description. But what the Jones Act protects is an industry that accounts for upward of 400,000 jobs and $36 billion in total economic activity, according to the Maritime Administration.
I supported McCain’s bid for the presidency in 2008 and admire him very much. But it is not exactly a profile in courage when a senator from Arizona takes on boatbuilders.
Indeed, his advocacy calls to mind U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley, the Colorado congressman who in 2002 proposed a ban on trawling for fish in the ocean, some 1,300 miles from his district.
As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Free markets are a great notion, but governance has to work. If we alter the Jones Act consistent with McCain’s vision, the foreign shipyards and vessels that assert themselves on our shores are certain to be the beneficiaries of governments whose largess will far exceed the measured guidelines by which we Americans strive to ensure our seagoing commerce.
Jerry Fraser is publisher of WorkBoat and National Fisherman. He can be reached at [email protected].