The Case against the Jones Act

The Case against the Jones Act cover

How has an archaic, burdensome law been able to persist for a century?

Passed in 1920, the Jones Act restricts the waterborne transport of cargo within the United States to vessels that are U.S.-flagged, U.S.-crewed, U.S.-owned, and U.S.-built. Meant to bolster the U.S. maritime sector, this protectionist law has instead contributed to its decline. As a result, today’s U.S. oceangoing domestic fleet numbers fewer than 100 ships. Beyond leaving a shrunken and uncompetitive maritime sector in its wake, the law has also inflicted considerable damage on the broader U.S. public that range from higher transportation costs to increased pollution.

The chapters in The Case against the Jones Act delve into some of the act’s founding myths and the false narrative its supporters have helped to perpetuate. The book evaluates the law’s costs, assesses its impact on businesses, consumers, and the environment, and offers alternatives for a way forward. The Jones Act’s failures reveal that the status quo is untenable. Contributors to this volume hope that the evidence presented will spark discussion about the Jones Act and lay the groundwork for the repeal or significant reform of this outdated law.

Learn more about the Cato Institute’s Project on Jones Act Reform or join the conversation on Twitter. #EndTheJonesAct

The Jones Act has presided over the decline of the U.S. maritime industry.


Colin Grabow is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, where his research focuses on U.S. trade with Asia as well as domestic forms of trade protectionism, such as the U.S. sugar program and the Jones Act. His writings have been published in a number of outlets, including USA Today, The Hill, National Review, and the Weekly Standard. Inu Manak is a research fellow at the Cato Institute. She is an expert in international political economy, with a specialization in international trade policy and law. Manak’s research focuses on the World Trade Organization, non‐​judicial treaty mechanisms, technical barriers to trade, regional trade agreements, and development.

With an introduction by Anne O. Krueger. Contributors to this volume include: Keli’i Akina, James W. Coleman, Andrew G. Durant, Steve Ellis, Timothy Fitzgerald, Thomas Grennes, Daniel Griswold, Howard Gutman, Daniel J. Ikenson, Taylor Jackson, Logan Kolas, Ted Loch‐​Temzelides, Nicolas Loris, Robert Quartel, Manuel Reyes, and Bryan Riley.