Episode 524: Mr Jones' Act : Planet Money The government suspended the Jones Act last week, to allow non-US ships to move fuel to victims of hurricanes in Houston and Florida. Which once again made us wonder why the act even exists.
NPR logo Episode 524: Mr Jones' Act

Episode 524: Mr Jones' Act

Pete Saloutos/Getty Images
How an almost century-old maritime law is still causing headaches across the country
Pete Saloutos/Getty Images

Note: This episode originally aired in March 2014.

There's an obscure law that governs just about anything that travels by ship from one port in the United States to another U.S.-based port — bananas, hair dryers, gasoline, even people. Economists do not like it. It's called the Jones Act and it just won't go away.

If you want to send a bunch of oranges by truck from Florida to Baltimore, no one cares who made the truck. Or if you want to fly computer chips across the country, it's fine if the plane is made in France. But if you want to send cargo by ship, according to the Jones Act, the ship has to be American made.

It's a 90-year-old law and, among other things, it says that every time you want to send something from one U.S. port to another, the cargo must travel on a ship built in the U.S., staffed by mostly Americans, and flying the American flag.

Today on the show, we look at all the unexpected places this law pops up, from cruise ships, to cattle farms, to New Jersey, where, a few winters ago, we met a guy who really, really needed some salt.

Music: "60's Quiz Show" and "For the Old Souls." Find us: Twitter/Facebook.