Jones Act Does Not Benefit Economy


The following PRESS RELEASE comes from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. Our island economy has long been burdened by the huge cost of shipping goods in. The Jones Act keeps a very tight monopoly on who gets to ship stuff to Hawaii, thus adding to the cost of goods sold, which we end up paying more than people who live on the mainland.

Shipping industry study claims Jones Act benefits Hawaii economy … yes, really 

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii analyzes the new study
and finds it to be contradictory, problematic and secretive

HONOLULU, July 21, 2020 >> A new study that allegedly shows the Jones Act has no “negative impact” on the cost of living in Hawaii actually shows the opposite, according to the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which is releasing a Jones Act study of its own on July 29.[1]

The American Maritime Partnership said in promotional literature accompanying its new report that “recent studies and articles have questioned the value of the Jones Act to Hawaii,” and “their claims of negative impact are not supported by the facts and ignore the examples of the positive role of the Jones Act.”[2]

However, the AMP’s study itself, “Impact of the U.S. Jones Act on Hawaii,” did an online comparison of retail prices at Walmart, Target and Costco stores in Hawaii and Los Angeles and concluded that grocery prices are on average 2.4% higher in Hawaii.[3] And that’s just at island food retailers that enjoy huge economies of scale.

Keli’i Akina, president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, said, “All this study manages to demonstrate is the economies of scale held by discount megastores. While it adequately explains why so many locals like to shop at Walmart and Costco, it doesn’t do much to analyze the actual costs of the Jones Act.”

John Dunham, the nationally recognized economic researcher and consultant whose firm, John Dunham & Associates, conducted the Grassroot Institute study, called the AMP study “silly.”

“National retailers try to maintain constant pricing across markets, so of course prices can sometimes be similar for most items,” Dunham said. “But the effects of the Jones Act are much broader and are found throughout the Hawaii economy, through higher operating costs, higher construction costs and higher energy costs.”

Not only that, using online prices to compare food prices at Hawaii versus Los Angeles stores is problematic. A visit today to the Keeaumoku Street Walmart showed an 18-ounce box of Cheerios selling for $4.26, before tax, versus $3.64 for its listed online price, and a four-pack of 5-ounce cans of albacore tuna for $8.43 versus $6.74 online.

Besides groceries, the AMP study shows very small price increases for durable goods, household goods, building materials and hardware, and no increases for clothing and automobiles, while also making the case that “there are many other factors that impact the price of goods in Hawaii beyond the Jones Act.”[4]

For automobiles, the study’s metric was the national Kelly Blue Book, but one local automobile financing executive told the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii today that the “blue book” is inappropriate for determining automobile prices in Hawaii.

“A serious economic study should not compare Kelley Blue Book values,” the executive said, “because those are national estimates of the price — which is why the KBB price for a particular vehicle is the same nationwide. Instead, prices should be compared by walking into the dealership in each state.”

As for alleged benefits of the Jones Act, the AMP study states that the protectionist federal maritime law adds $3.3 billion a year to Hawaii’s economy, based on a study that has never been made public.[5]

“That study is a black box,” Akina said. “No one is allowed to see exactly how they calculate that figure. We call on AMP to release that raw data so it can be better understood.”

By contrast, he said, “Our upcoming study will be transparent with its data sources and methodology, so everyone can see how much the Jones Act costs Hawaii.”

Dunham said, “Without knowing their methodology or inputs, we can’t understand the outputs. For example, does the $3.3 billion figure include economic activity that would exist despite the Jones Act, for example longshoremen? No one knows.”

“The Grassroot Institute study will be released July 29 at a webinar featuring Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii, Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah — both supporters in Congress of Jones Act reform — and Dunham, who will be available to comment on the report’s methodology.



Melvin Ah Ching is a photographer, consultant, blogger, desktop publisher, and computer enthusiast living and working in Hawaii. The Hawaii Files have been online since 2006.