Cato Institute Project on Jones Act Reform

New Billboards in New York City Area Blame the Onerous Jones Act for Snarling Traffic

Cato Institute Project on Jones Act ReformStuck in traffic? In 2018, Americans lost an average of 97 hours to traffic congestion, costing them nearly $87 billion—an average of $1,348 per driver.

Most of the congestion occurs in and around major metropolitan areas along interstates running parallel to the Atlantic Ocean (I-95), the Gulf Coast (I-10), and the Pacific Coast (I-5), where ocean transport via container ship would be a more efficient alternative—that is, except for an antiquated law called the “Jones Act.”

The Jones Act is a 99-year old law that restricts shipping between two ports in the United States to vessels that are U.S.-built, U.S.-owned, U.S.-flagged, and U.S.-crewed. Although the law was intended to bolster U.S. shipbuilding capacity and ensure a robust maritime services industry, it has had the opposite outcome.

The U.S. shipbuilding industry has atrophied to the point that approximately 300 shipyards have closed since 1983, the number of shipyard workers has shrunk from 186,700 in 1981 to 94,000 today, and the number of Jones Act compliant ships has diminished from 326 in 1982 to 99 today.

This means less coastal shipping, which explains why there are so many more trucks and so much more traffic congestion on our highways today.

Learn more about the impact of the Jones Act on your daily commute.

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.


More on the Jones Act


A Better Way to Unclog NYC Streets: Repeal the Jones Act

By Daniel J. Ikenson and Colin Grabow. New York Post. April 7, 2019.

2020 Democratic Hopefuls Need to Stop Pandering, Actually Commit to Helping Puerto Rico

By Federico A. de Jesús and Colin Grabow. USA Today. March 20, 2019.

It’s Time to Lift the Jones Act Embargo

By Colin Grabow. Morning Consult. February 20, 2019.

Cato @ Liberty

Cato Studies

The Jones Act: A Burden America Can No Longer Bear

By Colin Grabow, Inu Manak, and Daniel J. Ikenson. Policy Analysis No. 845. June 28, 2018.

Cato Reviews & Journals

Anchors Awry: The Jones Act Debate

George Landrith and Robert Quartel. Policy Report. January/February 2019.

Does the Jones Act Endanger American Seamen?

Thomas Grennes. Regulation. Fall 2017.

America’s Welfare Queen Fleet: The Need for Maritime Policy Reform

Robert Quartel. Regulation. Summer 1991.


Unnatural Disaster: Assessing the Jones Act’s Impact on Puerto Rico

Featuring Vicente Feliciano, John Dunham, Luis Rivera Marín, & Anne Krueger. April 30, 2019. Policy Forum.

The Jones Act: Charting a New Course after a Century of Failure

Featuring Daniel Griswold, Colin Grabow, Manuel Reyes, Bryan Riley, James W. Coleman, Jennifer Danner Riccardi, Ted Loch-Temzelides, Daniel J. Ikenson, Steve Ellis, Nick Loris, Robert Quartel, Christopher A. Preble, Keliʻi Akina, Thomas Grennes, Howard Gutman, Michael Hansen, Inu Manak, George Landrith, & Brett Fortnam. December 6, 2018. Conference.