The trucking industry is in the midst of upheaval—and hype

LIFE ON THE road has become a lot tougher since the 1980s, when Schumpeter spent a year driving a battered old lorry with several tonnes of four-hooved cargo around the western United States. The cab was too cramped to sleep in. The radio only played AM. And sweat would drench his shirt as he swerved down roads like the “Grapevine”, north of Los Angeles, with the smell of burning brake pads in his nose. Yet it was as close to the idyllic, free-wheelin’ life as a young Brit could hope for.

Not so for the genuine American trucker. Until that decade of deregulatory zeal, truckers were the best-paid members of America’s working class. Their union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was revered and feared. And the romance of the road was celebrated in 1970s films like “Convoy”. Then came the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which swept away restrictions on the number of haulage firms, as well as price controls. Union membership plunged and truckers’ livelihoods took a turn for the worse. Their sacrifice benefited the American consumer, though. As Steve Viscelli, a sociologist and author of “The Big Rig”, says, cheaper haulage on the back of lower wages for drivers supported a boom in big-box retailing that has transformed commerce ever since.

Today trucking is once again caught in an epochal upheaval that is also...



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