Time for the One-Dollar Stamp?

The U.S. Postal Service has been in the news a lot lately.  The post office, they tell us, is going broke.

Actually, the post office has been bleeding money for years, but this time, it’s serious.

Really serious, they tell us.  Honest injun.

To which The Curmudgeon says “So what?”

This is only an issue because once upon a time, Congress declared that the post office needed to pay for itself – to be self-sufficient.

But it’s not.  The post office spends more money delivering mail than it receives in fees.

To which The Curmudgeon says, again, “So what?”

Other than Congress saying the post office needs to be self-sufficient, there’s no inherent reason why the post office needs to be self-sufficient.

When you think about it, what’s more worthy of some degree of federal subsidy than mail delivery?  Health care?  Yep.  Public schools?  Okay.  Social security?  Uh huh.  National security?  If you insist.

But anything else?  National parks?  No.  Farm subsidies?  No way.  Airport security?  Uh uh.

But there’s this new trend in recent years in which certain elements in Congress – and their darjeeling-sipping supporters – have decided that they hate government and everything about it and want to get rid of any service that doesn’t pay for itself.

They are ably abetted in this movement by captains of industry who want government to get out of their way and spend money on absolutely nothing (except, of course, the lucrative government contracts those captains crave).

But no mail delivery?  Is that what they really want?  Do they really want the private sector to take over mail delivery?  Really?

Sure, they could try.  There’ll be plenty of companies lining up to take over the post office’s package delivery business.  Federal Express, UPS, and the little guys are probably salivating over the possibility.

But what about delivering individual pieces of mail – you know, a simple envelope with one or two or three sheets of paper?  Think there’ll be companies lining up to carry credit card bills from South Dakota to Alaska for forty-five cents?  To carry Florida state income tax refunds from Tallahassee to a tiny town on the edge of the everglades?

Sure, the post office can and should do more to reduce its costs.  It could close post offices – a lot of post offices, for that matter.  Until a few years ago, The Curmudgeon conducted most of his mail-related business at a postal counter in a nearby greeting card store.  Surely the post office could find more such partners – drug stores, office supply stores, supermarkets, any business whose owners think increased foot traffic might improve business.  Those of us of a certain age certainly remember Sam Drucker doing double duty as general storekeeper and postmaster on “Petticoat Junction.”  They could do it again.  If it was good enough for Billie Jo, Betty Jo, and the lovely Bobbie Jo, it should be good enough for us, too.

And while post office officials are talking about possibly ending Saturday delivery, there’s no reason to think that small.  What about every other day delivery?  Some people might get Monday, Wednesday, and Friday delivery while others get Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday delivery.  Or twice a week delivery – or even once a week.  While there would certainly be a degree of inconvenience associated with less frequent deliveries for a month or two, people would eventually adjust and move their lives into synch with the new way of postal life.  As for those who believe their packages absolutely, positively must be delivered overnight, well, there’s always express mail – the private companies and the post office, too.

This is not a change to be undertaken lightly.  The post office is one of the biggest private employers in the country (it’s technically not considered a government agency, which reflects a silly perspective), and reducing deliveries to save money would involve laying off a lot of people.  Think about it:  letter carriers who work five days a week could work three days a week on their “regular” routes and then two days a week on another route.  Surely there’s enough turnover in an organization that large to enable the post office to reduce its payroll greatly without massive layoffs.  Perhaps modest layoffs would work – maybe people hired just in the last few years – and maybe some incentives for older workers to take early retirement.  The post office would still need to operate every day – mail still needs to be moved, even if it’s not being delivered – but less frequent delivery would certainly enable the service to function with fewer workers.

Postal volume is down, we’re told, because of the growing use of electronic mail.  We don’t send ordinary letters anymore (did we ever, really?), we send electronic greeting cards, we receive many of our bills electronically, we pay our bills online, etc. etc.

But consider this:  as much as those captains of industry say they want government to get out of their way and let them do business (other than those lucrative government contracts), does anyone think ordinary businesses would stand still for a government-forced shutdown of the post office?  Do you think utility owners will accept the prospect of no way to get their monthly gas, electric, water, and telephone bills to their customers – and to receive their customers’ payments?  Will retailers who depend on weekly circulars to lure customers to their stores be willing to go out and hire thousands of people to deliver those circulars door to door if the post office stops delivering?  And what about the magazine industry – do you realize that only a tiny fraction of magazines sell at newsstands and that the vast majority are delivered by mail?

The Curmudgeon suspects that the captains of industry who hate government and want it to get out of the way so they can do business (except for their lucrative government contracts) will stand up and demand that Congress find a way to help the post office – even if it means subsidizing it.  And those members of Congress who thought they always had big business on their side?  They’ll learn that they thought wrong, that there are some government services worth delivering even if, heaven forbid, tax money has to help pay for them, and that mail delivery is one of those services.

Coming soon:  A great way to increase the volume of mail the post office carries at no cost to consumers or government.  You’ll love it.

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  • Peaches Shimmerdeep  On December 16, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Love this!

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