What’s also being tarred daily by the gushing oil is the very notion that government can accomplish anything.

What we\’re actually seeing is that government can make things worse.

Take, for example, the shortage of oil skimming ships in the Gulf. There\’s a whole flotilla of them on offer from a variety of European sources. They cannot, however, be used.

For there is this thing called the Jones Act. It started out, in the 20s (think that\’s right) as a way to support the US Merchant Marine. It is now simply a support for the US Seamen\’s unions.

What it says is that only US owned and crewed ships may operate in US coastal waters.

Thus those European owned and crewed ones may not: however much they might be needed, however much good they might do.

Of course, it is possible for the US Government to provide a waiver. Bush\’s lot managed it within two days of Katrina for example. Obama\’s lot has not: indeed, for political reasons probably cannot, given the way in which the Democratic Party relies upon union support.

It\’s not just that government finds it very difficult to achieve things: it\’s that it is often true that more can be achieved without what government already does.

It should also be said that Frank Rich\’s underlying argument is somewhat confused: government is crap at doing things so we should have more government.

12 thoughts on “Well, quite”

  1. It started out, in the 20s (think that’s right) as a way to support the US Merchant Marine. It is now simply a support for the US Seamen’s unions.

    As well as for the American Bureau of Shipping, the classification society. All ships entering US harbours must have been classified by ABS, which is a registered charity and one of the most opaque and unaccountable organisations I have ever come across. I worked in their consultancy subsidiary from 2001 until 2006, including my entire time in the Middle East, and I have yet to see a more incompetently managed company.

  2. You have missed the manufacturer in N.E. USA who has vast lengths of oil booms and who has, although he has attempted to contact the authorities, been ignored.
    Or the telling comment from one of the astronauts who said that the thing to do was solve the problem and then start investigating the cause. The implied comment being that if The One had been in post when Apollo 13 occurred, the astronauts would never have made it home.

  3. Pingback: FFS, One Day Off Isn't That Bad

  4. What [Jones] says is that only US owned and crewed ships may operate in US coastal waters.

    As I understand, it only restricts transport between US ports to US-owned and -crewed ships. So foreign vessels can enter US waters, dock, load/unload, and leave the US. However, that restriction is enough to scupper any non-US vessel from assisting with clean-up, relief or leak-fixing. Unless the President-messiah deigns to waive the Act’s provisions for the purposes of helping people in Louisiana.

    He, um, hasn’t. Which suggests that his priorities don’t include the people of Louisiana.

  5. Don’t overlook the wonderful Federal rule that has stopped some mopping-up boats working, because once they’ve separated the oil from the water, the water that needs to be rejected back into the Gulf contains tiny traces of oil and that would be illegal.

  6. Shorter this article & comments: “The President should do whatever some cranks with a product to sell think is a good idea, even if it’s illegal.”

  7. Remember firefighters putting out the oil fires in Kuwait. Some of those crazies were climbing on top of wellheads surrounded by a sea of flammables ready to ignite. Reckless and couldn’t happen in the West but effective and the fires were put out in a few months rather than years.

    It’s very easy to decide if an idea is good or not. Test it and see if it works!

  8. The Jones act was introduced because Canadian shipping companies, based in Vancouver, were dominating the trade between Alaska and the ‘lower 48’. Typical US protectionism. It is twisted for all sort of purposes. In the 80s and 90s it was used to discriminate against any overseas company installing or maintaining any transatlantic or transpacific submarine cables. The reasoning was that the fibre in many of them originated in the US – even if the cable itself was manufactured elsewhere, hence when any spare cable was eventually landed back at the cable depots in the US (necessary for future maintenance) it would be classed as transhipment between US ports . This handed the business to AT&T, the only US owner of cable ships. Those ships were monstrous white elephants, overmanned with 100% unionised crews, approx 40% more expensive than the competition. Result – other nation’s carriers who were co-owners of these cables were forced to pay a premium price that benefited only AT&T. Never underestimate the desire and ability of the US to protect its interests at the expense of everyone else’s…..

  9. Shorter this article & comments: “The President should use his legal power to waive stupid laws that impede sensible actions, when those sensible actions have been tried successfully elsewhere.”

  10. The Pedant-General

    And when those legal powers to waive stupid laws have indeed been used to waive said stupid laws in the very recent past by someone universally acclaimed – not least by john b – to be stupid himself.

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