River Cruise Lays Off Steam in Face of Political Concerns


March 28, 2016 2:39PM

It’s easy to forget the importance the Mississippi River used to have in this age of interstates and internet. So vital was it that free navigation of the Mississippi makes it into the Tennessee Constitution as “one of the inherent rights of the citizens of this State.” It is with joy that we note the possibility of the return of pleasure cruising the Mississippi. Viking River Cruises wants to do exactly that, offering a Memphis to New Orleans cruise to address a “vastly underserved market,” according to Memphis Riverfront Development Corp. President Benny Lendermon.

If steaming down the river like Mark Twain sounds like a good idea to you (it does to me), you may have to wait. Plans have been put on hold because of political concerns. This is due to the law that says any ship traveling between two U.S. ports must be built in the United States, so Viking River Cruises now has to build a ship in the U.S. rather than using one from its current fleet.

The Jones Act was passed in 1920. The Treaty of Versailles had just concluded the First (of Two) World Wars and President Obama was a negative 41 year old. The law nevertheless has his determined support. “You can count on me,” he told the Seafarers International Union in 2008. Like all laws closing off free choice, this one has its beneficiaries. They do not intend on competing or negotiating. They are burrowed like a tick in the folds of government fat.

Oftentimes, the harm of closing off markets is hard to see while the benefits are easy. In this case, it is happily untrue. This law visibly denies Memphis the economic growth it so desperately needs.

This is not just about free markets. It is also about free people. Capitalism is the only system that respects the individual enough to let them make open choices. Milton Friedman said that underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself. Though they could not have foreseen all of this, it’s appropriate that early Tennesseans had an “inherent right,” to navigate the Mississippi. If only the powers that be would stop restraining it.

People should be allowed to choose if they wish to sail in an American made vessel. Maybe it’s more expensive. Maybe the extra price is worth it to sail in a ship “Made in the U.S.A.” Maybe they will equip those ships with giant water cannons so you can recreate the siege of Vicksburg as you sail through. I don’t know. That sounds like something that ought to happen. It should be up to you. Some might even call this “the pursuit of happiness,” something unions are determined to deny you in order to enrich themselves. The point is let free people choose, not the Washington political class. Stop hurting Memphis.