Hedge fund manager Conor Sen made a valid point that the lack of truck drivers could drive up the cost of goods and slow down the economy. Sen went on to argue that this shortage will be exacerbated by the imminent automation of trucking. Why train for a job that will soon be eliminated?
There are two problems with his article.
Truckers pointed out that the shortage of drivers could be attributed to bad working conditions within a trucking. Sen didn’t address this in his article where he portrayed the driver shortage as something that just happened.
Poor working conditions for truckers are somewhat of a function of employment laws. For example, truck drivers are largely exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. While better laws for truckers would probably help attract more drivers, the trucking industry is fighting state law efforts to improve trucker wages. The wages of professional drivers are being further eroded by the use of contract drivers who are wrongfully classified as contractors rather than employers.
Secondly trucking industry observers believe automation is far from imminent. Professional drivers do a lot more than just drive. Even some tech industry boosters in the business press admit that automation may not be imminent. Increasing automation in truck driving could benefit drivers by making driving safer. Most airplanes fly by autopilot, but planes still have pilots.
In short, the trucker shortage isn’t just something that happened. It is driven by poor working conditions for truckers. Those poor working conditions are caused in part by bad laws which seem to be getting worse. It’s also not fair or reasonable to argue the supposed imminent arrival of automation to truck driving is causing a truck driver shortage. Automation of trucking is far from imminent, but increased automation may make trucking safer which would make it a more attractive job, which in turn would increase the supply of drivers.