Monday, July 5, 2010

Additional thoughts on the Jones Act

With triple-digit heat, bright sun, and enough HFO on board to fuel the two tankers we've got scheduled for today, it's going to be a rough one. This will be one of those days where I'm going to be tempted to hide inside with the AC a little too much.

With the prospects of suffering some serious diaper rash today what with the heat and all, my thoughts fall again to the recent political stuntwork of Sen. John McCain.

Sen McCain is a war hero and a survivor. Having lived through the Hanoi Hilton, I hate being smarmy, but I can't resist. A man who survived such an ordeal shouldn't be so willing to grease himself up to be a human hand puppet with the Agriculture lobby buried elbow deep and manipulating him so skillfully.

So, if I could sit down with Sen McCain, I'd say this: War hero or not, I hope your prostate falls out for having been so eager to take food out of my family's mouth, all in the name of working a scant few more years before being laid to rest yourself.

I'm suffering today. It's 8am, and I'm earning every penny I am paid, because I am miserable and being professional, even in the face of being pushed to compromise safety in the name of expediency. The difference between myself and the screaming, belligerent and hung over Russian engineer I dealt with today, is that I get paid well enough to protect my job in the face of enormous pressure, and I protect my job by being safe.

I'm not raising eyebrows by stating the obvious here: you get what you pay for. Pay a little, get a little. Maybe a little magic pipe in your engine room. Maybe a broken Oily Water Separator. Maybe a valve lashed open. Maybe a fire supression system with more holes in it than a sprinkler.
I'm aware that the Jones Act is a subsidy, and subsidies are bad, economically speaking. While the incredible arrogance of Sen. McCain's actions (criticizing the Jones Act while being the buttboy of the agriculture industry, the US's most heavily-subsidized industry) are scandalous, comparing two economic wrongs doesn't make for an easily-derived equation vis-a-vis the merits of the lesser of two evils; rather, the benefits of both can be compared and contrasted by comparing the effects of removing each subsidy.

if we're going to tilt at windmills here, if we were to simply stop our chokehold on Africa's farming industry by stopping grain subsidies, Africa could become self-sufficient. The consolidation of farming infrastructure would slow or reverse (economic superpowers don't like shrinking profit margins, and ag subsidies principally go to the majority stakeholders, the ag conglomerates).

If the Jones Act were repealed, local jobs would be offshored- consolidation of maritime interests would increase (the US is still a major player in terms of global tonnage owned- we just don't flag, or build, or crew our ships in-house). Naval shipbuilding would continue to be dismal and trending downward, as one of the two top-tier military shipbuilders also builds merchant ships, so procurement costs would increase, while shipbuilding infrastructure would require additional subsidization to remain viable for military construction. I would assume that the already shamefully-bloated shipbuilding budgeting process would increase. I would guess it would go beyond hyperbolic.
There's no way that even in the US Gulf of Mexico that an American could work for international wages, when it comes to unlicensed positions aboard. The foreign First Assistant engineers that I interact with in the course of bunkering all go google-eyed when I tell them that a shithole apartment in a crime-ridden neighborhood where I come from rents for $1,200 a month with no utilities included.
So, when it comes to Sen. McCain's hubris, I give him a big thumbs down, in the Roman sense. I say, politically, salt him and let the lions out. The mob needs entertainment.


Bill Brucato said...

Well said, I couldn't agree more. Here kitty, kitty....

Anonymous said...


I must respectfully disagree with two of your points. First, McCain, by choosing to be a political leader once his military career ended, put himself in a position to be criticized for his political actions (though he does rely heavily on the kudos his military record gives him).

Second, and most importantly, it is short sighted to view the Jones Act solely as a subsidy (though it does have that affect). The purpose of the Jones Act was, and is, to ensure that a maritime infrastructure remains in this country for purposes of national security. While the nature of warfare and national security has changed during this period of complex interdependence, relying on other countries for the work provided by the merchant marine makes this nation especially vulnerable to the shifting winds of geopolitics. John McCain should know this. The problem we face is that most people in this nation fail to understand that the United States is a maritime nation. The basic infrastructure kept in place by the Jones Act ensures, at the least, that the US is less vulnerable from outside powers.

There are lessons the merchant marine needs to learn from the agriculture lobby. Most importantly, to let America understand how much this nation relies on it for commerce and national security.

Paul, Dammit! said...

Anonymous, I recognize that Sen. McCain had to pick sides when he changed careers, and that this would alienate some of his constituency. I'm not above pointing out when rank hypocrisy rears it's head, and that's the case here. Sen. McCain is heavily invested in agriculture, so he'd be expected to look after his own interests, but as a vet, one would think that he'd be more circumspect about shitting where he eats.

As for the Jones Act, I've done myself a disservice by cranking out a blog entry without fully fleshing out my opinion. I DO view the Act as having great necessity and value... that being said, I also view it for what it is.
My view on economics is that simplicity and efficiency are two sides of the same coin: with rare exception, the best thing for the economy is usually also the easiest thing to implement. This is obviously not the case with the Jones Act.
There's certainly nothing simple about how we handle the Jones Act now- cherry picking of which aspects to enforce, and which to ignore (the ship rebuilding rule, for example), it's only natural that now that we've watered it down, it's going to come under increasing pressure- there's a chink in the armor, and we'd be fools to think that opposing forces won't try to exploit any weakness.
Anyhow, the bottom line is that my (full) opinion is that for the most part, the people who are in opposition to the act do view it purely as a subsidy, and, if someone with more brains and patience than I were to address and rebut their talking points and couch their terms purely in terms of the economics, it would still be possible to justify the continued existence of the Jones Act, and, further, to dollar-for-dollar show the benefits in far more positive terms than our continued investment in ag subsidies.

Hmmm, maybe I should have just written that all out yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me started on the US sugar subsidy. If there is something that should go away this is on top of the ag hit list.

The Jones Act can be fixed to reflect the needs of the Country and not the needs of the special interests and their DC connections.

bigsoxfan said...

CDR Salemander at blog spot radio is throwing an internet disucssion on the jones act this Sunday coming. Not sure if you will be in range, but a good chance to rebut further dilution of jones.

bigsoxfan said...

Link here. I'm a lously speeler

Anonymous said...

Paul, while I disagreed with you on some finer points of your argument, you did make a case for importance of the Jones Act. As for the opponents of the Act, they're probably looking for a quick political fix to increase their share of the pie. Of course, the situation in the Gulf makes the Act an easier target if the Act's opponents can ensure that no one fully views the alternatives.

Given you're experience and background, maybe you should consider working on behalf of mariners.

Halley said...

(Small item: thumbs down indicated letting the guy live; thumbs up was to kill him. Down to stay down on earth, up to send him to up to heaven.)

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