“That Reuters report doesn’t include a specific mention of the Jones Act—the century-old law that effectively bans foreign-built ships from operating between American ports, and that subsequently drives up the cost of shipbuilding and shipping in the United States—but the subtext is pretty clear. In a call with reporters a few days after the project was canceled, Ørsted CEO Mads Nipper cited “significant delays on vessel availability” caused “a situation where we would need to go out and recontract all or very large scopes of the project at expectedly higher prices.”
That’s what the Jones Act does. As Reason has reported on many other occasions, the Jones Act is a nakedly protectionist law that severely limits competition in the American shipping market by requiring that ships operating between U.S. ports are American-built, American-crewed, and American-flagged.
Building offshore wind farms requires ships that can deliver supplies to the construction site and some specialty ships that serve as a base for building the turbines. While there are plenty of ships around the rest of the world that can do that work, companies like Ørsted can’t use those ships to build wind farms in American coastal waters.”
“The series of subsidies and tariffs that the federal government uses to artificially inflate sugar prices in the United States cost consumers between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion every year, according to a timely Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today. Those protectionist policies aren’t the cause of the recent spike in sugar or candy prices, of course, but prices would absolutely be lower without them.”
“Those higher prices get baked—quite literally—into the cost of everything from Milky Ways to Sour Patch Kids. And, as the GAO also points out, this is a classic case of concentrated benefits for a special interest that results in huge, but very diffused, costs for everyone else: “Because the program guarantees relatively high prices for domestic sugar, sugar farmers benefit significantly, and sugar farms are substantially more profitable per acre than other U.S. farms.””
“These requirements have long been found to increase the costs of infrastructure projects, but the promise of creating even more cost-increasing American jobs makes them a popular provision.
The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which Biden signed into law in November 2021 re-upped requirements that federally funded infrastructure use American-made iron and steel. It also expanded those requirements to construction materials like drywall, copper wire, fiber optic cables, and lumber.”
“Those requirements were supposed to kick in within 180 days of the law’s passage. Right before they did, the Biden administration’s Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a sweeping 180-day waiver for new Buy America provisions for construction materials, citing the cost and complexity of complying with those provisions.
Public comments from state departments of transportation, public transit agencies, and contractors all generally supported this waiver and, in fact, asked that it last for at least 18 months and as long as four years.
The reason is pretty straightforward: Buy America provisions greatly increase the costs of infrastructure projects.”
“Expanding Buy America provisions, and cracking down on waivers, are a staple of all administrations and most State of the Union addresses. The fact they keep exempting themselves from these requirements shows that Biden—and his predecessors—understand at some level that they’re a bad idea.”
“Ultimately, the basis of such laws can be tied to simple and pure protectionism. Indeed, the protectionist urge is strong, historically, among the powerful producers of animal products—including meat and dairy. For example, as I’ve discussed in my book Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable and elsewhere, rent-seeking dairy interests have, over generations, leaned on lawmakers to force competitors to change the name and even the appearance of their foods. In Wisconsin, the state long forced makers of margarine—who compete with the dairy state’s butter makers—to color their products pink. In New York, the state forced makers of non-dairy creamers to label those foods as “melloream”—whatever the hell that is.
Notably, though, this type of protectionism isn’t wholly limited to meat-industry-led attacks on vegan competitors. As I explained in a 2019 column, Arkansas has sought to protect its dominant rice industry against competition from makers of riced cauliflower (a law I characterized at the time as “veg-on-veg crime”).
The single most important fact to remember about these laws is that they seek to undermine the First Amendment to prop up sales for certain elements of the food industry. That’s as unconstitutional as it is unwise. Such laws don’t’ serve the interests of consumers. After all, neither your hypothetical cousin’s boyfriend nor your uncle was confused in the least by the differences between Tofurky and turkey. Indeed, it was those differences that drew them to choose those respective favored foods in the first place.”
“The $1 trillion infrastructure law passed last year expanded Buy America rules, which require state and local agencies to buy certain materials made in the United States for federally funded infrastructure projects. Rules that iron, steel, and manufactured products be made in America have been in place for decades, but they’ve traditionally applied to transportation and water-related projects, such as highways, rail, and public transit.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s new rules broadened the scope of goods that have to be produced in the United States by creating a new category for “construction materials.” It also expanded the types of infrastructure projects subject to the requirements to permanently include housing, broadband, and new programs for electric vehicle charging projects for the first time.”
“many state and local officials across the country say the new rules could delay much-needed infrastructure projects and significantly drive up costs amid the fastest inflation in 40 years. Some say they’re already struggling to deal with supply-chain disruptions that have emerged during the pandemic and worry that material shortages could worsen if they’re limited to domestic manufacturers. Higher costs could also lead to fewer projects and soften the impact of the package”
“When it was passed, the law provided subsidies for the construction of a domestic shipping industry, while imposing various employment rules and other shipping regulations. It has been amended in the century since, but it continues to prohibit foreign-flagged ships from traveling between U.S. ports, and many of its wage and labor regulations are still in effect, making it beloved, almost obsessively, by unions.
In at least one way, the Jones Act has served at least part of its intended purpose: It has benefited the domestic shipping industry by shielding it from foreign competition. But it has done so at considerable expense to everyone else.
By restricting and regulating shipping at America’s ports, the Jones Act considerably raises the costs of transporting goods, which in turn raises prices on everything from food to electronics to textiles. In good economic times, the Jones Act is a cost borne by the majority to bolster the fortunes of a few. In periods of global economic instability and high inflation, the Jones Act makes supply chain problems worse and drives prices even higher. On a daily basis, it is a force for impoverishment. ”
“Just about any time one finds a politician taking credit for specific business decisions by specific companies, one ought to be skeptical, worried, or both. In this case, the proximate cause of much of Biden’s factory-jobs campaigning is the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, a $52 billion package of industry subsidies Biden signed into law in August. Manufacturers who stand to benefit from these subsidies have played along, with Micron’s leadership saying that its facility is “the first of Micron’s multiple planned U.S. investments following the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act.” Micron, however, was publicly teasing the possibility of new manufacturing facilities as early as October 2021, long before the CHIPS Act became law.”
“Just as the Jones Act ends up distorting the shipping industry, shaping it in ways that make it less flexible and less responsive to genuine consumer demand, we should expect the CHIPS Act to push the semiconductor industry into labor and production decisions intended to satisfy politically determined subsidy requirements rather than genuine market needs. Subsidies are more likely to incentivize inefficiency and dysfunction than genuinely useful production, inflating prices in the process. When subsidies are driving decisions, that means subsidy programs, not end users, are the true customer. “
“My son was born with severe heartburn and cried constantly—and the baby formula on the shelves only caused him more pain. At the suggestion of our pediatrician, we turned to a European goat milk formula that we hoped could soothe my son’s stomach until he grew out of his condition. But recently our orders were canceled, thanks to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
America’s baby formulas are incredibly standardized. The FDA claims that that’s safer, but those regulations mean that most formulas have multiple ingredients that could be allergens or irritants. Milk-based formulas in the U.S. also have soy ingredients like soy oil, as well as palm oil. And most American formulas have higher than average levels of iron, which can cause constipation. While many European brands are similar to American ones, you can find brands there that don’t contain so many possible irritants to a child’s sensitive stomach. We used Nannycare, and my son found it much more tolerable than its stateside competitors.
It’s impossible to say for sure why my English supplier suddenly decided not to sell formulas to a buyer in the U.S. But the timing of the cancellation provides a clue: It happened shortly after the FDA blocked a large amount of European formula from being sold, declaring that they did not meet the agency’s standards.
We are far from the only family that relies on European baby formula. Yet the free flow of perfectly safe goods into the United States is still extremely restricted. The agency’s strict rules about how formulas can be made limit options for children with medical issues and leaves parents with products that can cause their little ones pain.
Worse yet, these regulations are more driven by bureaucratic and political interests than by science. These products, after all, have not caused a wave of problems for European babies.”
“When the Trump administration implemented tariffs on Chinese chemical companies in 2018, administration officials said tariffs would make American chemical companies more competitive. But industry groups told regulators last week that it’s had the opposite effect.
At a Thursday hearing on the impact of the Trump administration’s tariffs against China, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an industry group representing over 190 U.S. chemical companies, informed the International Trade Commission that imports of Chinese chemical products have instead grown continuously since the tariffs took effect in June 2018. Over $35 billion worth of chemicals were imported from China in 2021, and Chinese companies now make up a larger share of U.S. chemical imports than they did when former President Donald Trump took office in 2017.
Per the ACC, the Trump administration failed to account for American manufacturers’ reliance on intermediate products exclusively produced in China. “China is the primary source of many valuable inputs to U.S. chemical manufacturing processes, and for which few or no alternatives exist,” an ACC representative said. “It would take years, and billions of dollars, to build manufacturing capabilities for these inputs in the United States or other countries.”
Dyes stand out as some of the most notable examples of vital Chinese imports impacted by chemical tariffs. For U.S. manufacturers to produce Red 57, a red pigment commonly found in many cosmetic products, they must import 3-hydroxy-2-naphthoic acid, also known as BONA, from China. BONA is exclusively produced in China, forcing American manufacturers to bear the higher costs associated with importing these critical Chinese-made inputs for their final products.”
“Despite the attention given to the industry by the federal government in recent years, chemical companies are warning that tariffs are hurting their ability to invest new capital in their supply chains and innovate on issues like climate change. They also worry that it will slow job growth and hinder the Biden administration’s broader efforts toward restoring resilience in the supply chain while only contributing to higher costs for consumers.
“[T]ariffs are clearly not working for the chemicals and plastics sector,” the ACC said in their testimony. “[They] are making the United States a less attractive place for jobs, innovation, and plant expansion.””
“The current legislation has swelled to a total cost of more than $400 billion. The core of the bill is $76 billion in direct funding for domestic semiconductor manufacturing through a variety of grants and tax credits. The rest of the money, beyond doubling the budget of the notoriously silly spenders at the National Science Foundation, is predictably a billion here and a billion there for vaguely named programs with even more ambiguous purposes. For example, as the Wall Street Journal editorial board pointed out, “The Commerce Department gets $11 billion, most of which it intends to plow into creating 20 new ‘regional technology hubs,’ which will somehow expand ‘U.S. innovation capacity.'””
“Proponents of the legislation would have you believe that the U.S. is overly reliant on foreign, unreliable suppliers of semiconductors, particularly those under threat from China. Semiconductors are unbelievably important components in practically countless goods relied on every day, but that’s no excuse to ignore the fact that the domestic semiconductor industry is, per a 2020 report by the Semiconductor Industry Association, “on solid footing.” U.S.-based semiconductor firms hold nearly half of the global market share, and 44 percent of that production already occurs in the U.S. Moreover, these figures don’t even capture firms based in allied countries such as South Korea and Taiwan that are currently spending billions of dollars to open semiconductor manufacturing facilities in the U.S.—without the need for funding.”
“it’s the FDA’s unnecessary and protectionist rules that effectively ban foreign-made baby formula from being imported into the United States. On Wednesday, the agency announced plans to tweak those rules so foreign formula manufacturers can permanently import their goods into the U.S., giving American consumers greater choice in the marketplace and ensuring more robust supply chains.”
” When the Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan was forced to close temporarily due to an FDA investigation into possible contamination, it created a supply shock that left store shelves empty and parents scrambling to find formula. Because of the FDA’s protectionist rules (and high tariffs levied on foreign-made formula), markets could not adapt quickly to the shortage here in America”
“In testimony to Congress, FDA officials admitted to botching the response to the contamination at the Abbott plant. But the real culprit of the recent shortage was a deeper and more pervasive one. No matter what nationalists like Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) might suggest, closing off the country to international trade is not a recipe for resilience. The baby formula crisis demonstrated that it is quite the opposite.
So it’s good to see the FDA admit those mistakes and crack open the door to allowing foreign formula into the U.S. on a permanent basis.
Unfortunately, the list of policy changes the FDA announced..mostly amounts to providing technical assistance to foreign firms that want to sell formula here. That is, offering help in navigating the complex approval process, rather than sweeping aside those regulations entirely. If a formula maker has passed muster under E.U. regulations, that should be good enough for the FDA.
There’s also the matter of tariffs on imported formula, which are so high that they effectively make any imported formula uncompetitive in the American market. Why would a foreign manufacturer like Holle or HiPP go through the complicated FDA approval process (even after the announced changes) if it knows in advance that its goods won’t be able to compete on a level playing field in America?”