I know that MARAD isn't our biggest ally in this fight but the data they shared shows such a drastic disparity between our fleet and foreign fleets that I believe it to beyond reproach. You can only massage data and statistics so far. I still have just barely enough faith in government agencies to believe that MARAD would not stoop so low as to outright makeup numbers just to suit their own purposes. I'm not saying they didn't try to make the numbers look better for them, they probably did do some of that, but even without their help it is a fool's folly to think that things in this industry are better than they are.
There are clearly reasons why people don't want to do business with us, and to be completely honest not all of those reasons are completely unfair to us. Some of it is just that the Norwegians are bullies and stack the deck against at every chance they get, but other aspects of the several-decade-long downturn in our industry can only be attributed to things here at home. We cannot afford as an industry to go on denying the problems that exist and that bring us one step closer to demise every day. As the eminent paleobiologist, Dr. Mary Schweitzer, once said, "If you don't believe the data then what the hell are you going to believe?"
In response to your assertion that the standard of living in this country, along with wages and benefits, is not a contributing factor, or at least not as much as MARAD would lead us to believe, I can only say that unfortunately I do not posses the empirical data to demonstrate the various ways in which that is wholly incorrect. The only solution that I can think of to offer is for you to turn on a television, open a newspaper, or read a magazine. Better yet just go sit quietly at any restaurant or cafe of your choosing and people-watch for a hour or so. While you're sitting there and taking it all in try and think back to what that scene would have looked like 10, 20, 30, maybe even 40 years ago, or longer if you can manage it.
It's not just that we wear different clothes now than we did years ago, the public also asks more of society now than we ever have in the past. The average individual person wants more out of life, and quite frequently gets it. We are not, by any means, a humble people. Our standard of living has sky-rocketed as a result of dramatically increased expectations from daily life, which themselves come from the various messages that are thrown in our face every minute by mass-media. If you spent twelve hours a day watching the Kardashians loaf around their house(s!) then you'd want to live like that too. It used to be that people were content to be happy in their own right but now everyone wants what the next best person, or in many cases what the several next best people, have.
You asked why we should be expected to compete with displaced third-world villagers for our jobs. It's because they can do our jobs. Every sea-boardering nation on the planet has a merchant marine force of its own. They are all different and they are all unique but because of things like STCW they all follow the same standards and they all march to the beat of the same drum. That's not to say that some aren't better than others, they certainly are, and they should be, but at the end of the day they all get the job done one way or another. As a business person with various bosses, shareholders, and a board of directors to answer to can you legitimately justify doing business with an American shipping firm whose costs outweigh a third-world shipping firm, who would perform the same tasks with the same diligence, by a margin of three-fold? Whatever you might think, the answer to this question is still no. You cannot justify that to anyone.
It must seem like I'm anti-U.S. Merchant Marine but I can tell you I most certainly am not. I whole-heartedly believe that this country needs a strong merchant fleet as a matter of survival politically, militarily, and economically but I do not believe that this should be achieved at the cost of making it more difficult to do business. Business have only one goal in mind, to make money, and the more you try to force them into unprofitable practices, like being required to use overly-expensive American ships, the more they will try to evade those practices. History shows that they will win. Just look where it's gotten us so far. I do not think under any circumstances that we should just throw out the Jones Act and let the market seek an equilibrium of its own. We already know that won't work because all of our manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. I do, however, believe that any attempts to restore the American fleet must be done with the strictest business sense in mind. This industry must compete and succeed against foreign markets in its own right, without government assistance, or it is doomed to oblivion and we might just as well call the whole thing off right now.
Having said all that, the final comment I would make is that I believe that your ideas about shifting the balance of money around in the public sector of the Maritime Industry would be a step in the right direction. I still believe that this industry needs to succeed on its own without government assistance but that kind of change doesn't happen over night. Under the system we have now I believe it would be a good move to cull the herd of unnecessary expenses like KP and NOAA and re-route that cash into subsidizing construction projects that directly benefit the Jones Act. Such projects would include Matson and Crowley's new ships, and most certainly NOT include Horizon Lines' overseas engine refit projects.