The Trump Administration has forced a Chinese company to sell its ownership stake in the Port of Long Beach. This is good, but it got me thinking for a bit about the sad state of America’s merchant marine. Not counting nations like Panama because lots of ships are registered there for tax purposes, the bottom still is that our merchant marine is pathetically small. There are both national security and economic issues at stake here. We need a large merchant fleet because during wartime we’ll instantly need a large number of experienced mariners, as well as a large sea transport capacity. We also need a large merchant fleet because having such gives us the benefit of our control of the seas (right now we keep the sea lanes open for everyone else), maintains a large shipbuilding industry vital for war and, of course, provides a large market for American-made products which go to make up ships.
Our Libertarian friends are going to hate this, but if building up and maintaining a large merchant marine requires protectionism, then that is what we’ll have to do. I’d make it that imports into the USA are taxed at a 25% lower rate if they are carried in American-flagged vessels. 50% lower rate if they are American-built, American-flagged US ships. 75% lower rate if 50% of the crew of that American-built, American-flagged ship is American citizens. I’d make it that all trade ships entering US ports must pass American inspections both as to seaworthiness and the training of the crews (I’m especially interested in the cruise trade here…how many times do we see cruise ships going dead in the water?).
I also believe that if we wanted to, we could build ships of higher quality than any other nation on Earth. Ships that will move faster, be more seaworthy and be cheaper to operate. We are Americans: we can do whatever we want. All we have to do is set our mind to it.