Cato Institute Project on Jones Act Reform

The Cato Institute seeks to raise awareness about the Jones Act and lay the groundwork for the repeal or reform of this outdated law.

Since 1920 the Jones Act has mandated that the sea transport of cargo between U.S. ports must be performed by vessels that are U.S.-built, U.S.-owned, U.S. flagged, and U.S.-crewed. Justified on national security grounds, the law was meant to ensure a strong maritime sector to bolster U.S. capabilities in times of war or national emergency. These envisioned benefits, however, have proved illusory while the Jones Act has imposed a very real and ongoing economic burden. Despite this, the law survives thanks to well-connected supporters and ignorance of the Jones Act and its costs by the general public.


The Cato Institute aims to shake up this status quo by shining a spotlight on the Jones Act’s myriad negative impacts and exposing its alleged benefits as entirely hollow. By systematically laying bare the truth about this nearly 100 year old failed law, the Cato Institute Project on Jones Act Reform is meant to raise public awareness and lay the groundwork for its repeal or reform.

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Featured Work


The Jones Act
A Burden America Can No Longer Bear

For nearly 100 years, a federal law known as the Jones Act has restricted water transportation of cargo between U.S. ports to ships that are U.S.-owned, U.S.-crewed, U.S.-registered, and U.S.-built. Justified on national security grounds as a means to bolster the U.S. maritime industry, the unsurprising result of this law has been to impose significant costs on the U.S. economy while providing few of the promised benefits. In this paper, Cato scholars Colin Grabow, Inu Manak, and Daniel J. Ikenson examine how such an archaic, burdensome law has been able to withstand scrutiny and persist for almost a century, and present a series of options for reforming this archaic law and reducing its costly burdens.








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