Trucker Economics

Letter From Arkansas

Talk about the economy is hotter than the coffee served at the truck stop in West Memphis, the third countertop we’ve visited in the last 12 hours.  It’s the graveyard shift, and the waitresses are filling the half-gallon thermoses as fast as truckers can place them on the counter.  The Java Cows in the kitchen are working overtime tonight.

Truckers have been called “the last American cowboys.”  But like their brothers and sisters who build automobiles, they can teach any economist who cares to listen a thing or two about forecasting.  At this truck stop, several miles from the Tennessee state line; at another, down the road in Galloway; and at yet another, further west toward Fort Smith, all of today’s conversations have revolved around commerce and the state of the economy.

The headlights from dozens of 18-wheelers, a caravan of trade, are reflected in the glass that separates us from the elements.  No government economist could centrally plan the commerce flowing through even one truck stop.  Nor could he explain—so simply yet eloquently, on a napkin yet—why independents are registering their rigs in neighboring Oklahoma: Registration fees are lower there than in Arkansas.  A few days later, at the office in Little Rock, a retired trucker conducts a similar exercise in tax policy on a sheet of paper.  Yes, many of Arkansas’ tax rates...

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