I Will Not Fisk, I Will Not Fisk, …

There are so many things wrong with Conor Sen’s lament at Bloomberg View about there not being enough truckers that I hardly know where to begin. Rather than fisking it in detail I’ll just hit a few of the high points.

  • His own graph show that there are more truckers in the U. S. today than at any time in our recent history.
  • One of the provisions of NAFTA allows Mexican truckers to haul freight from Mexico into the United States. The more freight is brought in from Mexico, the more Mexican truckers are hauling freight. Those truckers don’t count into U. S. trucker employment.
  • It’s too bad there’s no way of hauling freight in the United States other than by truck.
  • Any shortage of truckers is due to a rules change that went into effect in 2013, coincidentally just about the time that the number of truckers stopped growing.
  • What’s trucker pay as a proportion of shipping costs?
  • It’s too bad that it’s impossible to manufacture consumer goods or grow food closer to the places where people live rather than shipping them from ports to where people live.
  • As I pointed out yesterday maybe if we weren’t subsidizing Chinese imports there would be less need for long haul trucking.

and that’s just off the top of my head.

Bottom line: I don’t believe that it would be a national tragedy if truckers were paid more and, if Mr. Sen believes it, he certainly hasn’t made a case for it.

7 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw

    That was a very excitable link, though if the point is that the media is exagerating the emergency of automatic driving technology, I think that is probably true and should be addressed directly. For example, see this:

    “Basically, if the self-driving trucks are used far more efficiently, it would drive down the cost of freight, which would stimulate demand, leading to more business. And, if more freight is out on the roads, and humans are required to run it around local areas, then there will be a greater, not lesser, need for truck drivers.”

    http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/02/will-self-driving-trucks-increase-demand-truck-drivers.html?trashed=1&ids=159770844

    In other words, more trucks driving (presumably at night) will require more workers; technology as a complement, not a substitute.

    (Also, the comments from Dan Hanson in the link are worth reading)

  • I continue to believe that the imminence of a major transition to self-driving technology is greatly exaggerated, both in the technology and, importantly, in its legal aspects. Non-technical journalists operate under the misconception that technology always proceeds linearly or geometrically. Self-driving technology could proceed rapidly. Or it could plateau and not improve for a century. Time will tell.

    But even if the technology matures sufficiently, I think that liability is very likely to kill it.

    BTW, Tyler is making some poor assumptions, too. How much of the surplus will be captured by producers, how much by consumers? In recent years most of the surplus has been captured by producers.

  • PD Shaw

    Tyler is indirectly quoting an Uber analysis; I probably should have flagged that for potential bias, but I think Uber has a vested interest in overstating the transformative power of automation.

    The Hanson comment probably hits more specifically on the important points. The driving part of a trucker’s job is the most routine (and boring), but a lot of the truck driver’s job is in the loading/ unloading, fueling, setting out the warning triangles when there has been an incident, etc. The probable path of automation is trucks capable of driving longer distances with people working from them.

  • Andy

    We haven’t even automated trains yet and it seems to me that would be a lot easier from a technical perspective.

  • We haven’t even automated trains yet

    That was possible with existing technology at least 30 years ago. I actually saw it demonstrated. That it hasn’t happened suggests to me that there wasn’t a business case for it.

  • walt moffett

    Or it wasn’t worth dealing with the union. Remember how long it took to do away with brakemen, stokers, oilers and now on freight trains, conductors. Stokers on a diesel?

    But, to point, yes will have to pay more to truckers and maybe rethink procedures so they work say a 50 hour week instead of 70. All of which will reduce quarterly earnings, etc.

  • Andrew

    Quite a bit of freight is hauled by rail. It is called TOFC, trailer on flat car. Or just as often container from rail to chassis. Depending on the distance and how much is moved is the determining factor. For instance, a large company will load a trailer on the west coast, take it to the rail yard. The rail yard people will load the trailer on a train bound for the east coast. When it gets there, it is unloaded and picked up by a driver from the nearest barn. For short distances, say a thousand miles or less than a fully loaded trailer it is best to just drive it the whole way.
    As far as rules changes one has to go back to the 90’s and the CDL laws. The changes are basically putting the little guys out of business. Most of the bad rules came about after the 2008 election.
    There are quite a few costs that most people are unaware of when it comes to operating a truck. Just as an example. I know many who complain about putting twenty or thirty gallons of gas in their vehicle a week. Try having to put five hundred every week. And everything about a truck is to that scale.
    As far as self-driving trucks. That is one of those I’ll believe it when I see it kind of things. It may look good on paper. When the rubber meets the road those people sittings it offices coming up with this stuff may find they haven’t a clue about the outside world.

Leave a Comment