Monday, April 04, 2005

United States Postal.....Service?

I've been wanting to post on the Post Office, but Chuck Muth has said it much better than I could. This post was part of a Muth's Truth email I subscribe to(posted with permission). Excellent post.

Every year or so the rates go up and the service goes down. I am old enough to remember my grandparents getting twice a day service by a carrier who walked his route. My other grandfather was a postal carrier with a rural route. During WWII, he knew many of the families on his route had sons and daughters in one or another of the armed services, as were his own sons. He not only made his normal twice a day deliveries, six days a week, but if he knew a family was expecting mail or had worry about the safety of a son, Grandpa would make an extra delivery. This was when he had to purchase his own vehicle, tires and gasoline. During the war, he got preferences because of his job, but he still had the expenses that went along with it. Remember the old adage of the Post Office "neither rain, nor snow" etc.? Well, Grandpa delivered in all kinds of weather, twice a day until he retired in the early 60's.

This is not to say that there are no carriers who make the extra effort, of course there are. All industries and services have those who will go the extra mile and beyond. But they are becoming rarer by the day. We've all heard of carriers throwing mail away instead of delivering it. We've heard of mail carriers stealing from their mail bags. We've all had mail delivered to us that was addressed to another person at a different address. It happens, but sometimes happens way too often to just say "It happens." We've heard the bad and way too little of the good.

The Post Office of my Grandfather's day doesn't exist anymore. It's had to progress and change with the times, but was the change always for the better? The Post Office has a bad reputation and needs to do something to correct it before they lose all their business to the Internet and FedEx. Maybe instead of raising rates, they should consider some of Chuck's suggestions. They make sense.

Darn it. Read Chuck's article. It says it better than I can.

Candle-makers, Blacksmiths...and the Post Office
by Chuck Muth

Candle-makers were none too happy with the invention of the light bulb, for obvious reasons. Ditto blacksmiths with the invention of the automobile. So you can imagine how the post office must feel today about cheap long distance rates, faxes and email.

While candle-makers and blacksmiths still roam among us today, like the buffalo their numbers have greatly diminished since the country's founding years. I assume they fought the tide of progress tooth-and-nail, but in the end their fate was inevitable. So, too, is the fate of the once great United States Postal Service (USPS). Its demise is a foregone conclusion. The only question is when and how the USPS as we know it today will be put out to pasture for good.

Last month, Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, introduced the latest version of a postal reform bill. This in response to recommendations made last year by the President's Commission on the United States Postal Service. And while there are a number of good things in the bill, it is a bill crafted in denial. The bill's overall intent appears to be to return the USPS to its glory days, ignoring the fact that its time has come - and gone.

The Magic City Morning Star, a local paper in Collins' Maine, covered the introduction of the bill in some detail. It characterized the purpose of the legislation as an effort "to preserve the jobs of more than 750,000 career USPS employees." Um, if the intent of postal reform is simply to provide employment for these folks, maybe we can retrain them to become candle-makers and blacksmiths? Talk about back to the future.

Sen. Collins is also quoted as saying her bill is designed to preserve "affordable rates, frequent delivery, and convenient community access to retail postal services." But this ignores present-day market reality.

First, while postage rates continue to rise - and are scheduled to do so again next year - the cost of long distance phone calls, faxing and email continue to plunge.

Second, as the huge drop in mail volume clearly indicates, "frequent delivery" is already being re-defined by the private-sector market place. If you want it there quickly and on time, mailing it via the post office is your LAST resort. Helloooo, Federal! No, most of what gets stuffed in your mailbox these days is advertising mail ("junk" mail, if you will), bills and the occasional greeting card - all three of which are increasingly popping up on the Internet themselves these days.

The fact is, when it comes to "snail mail," it's time to, at the very least, re-define what "frequent" means. For most residential households, three-day-a-week delivery is probably the most that is needed. Heck, the garbage man only picks up our junk once or twice a week; why does the post office need to deliver it six days a week?

As for "community access to retail postal services," you can buy postage online these days, and there are convenient private postal businesses located in shopping centers, and even inside many grocery stores. It simply is no longer necessary for the USPS to maintain so many of its own expensive post offices any longer - post offices which, by the way, don't pay property and business taxes.

Of course, practically no one in Congress has the backbone to shut down underutilized and unnecessary post offices. So any meaningful postal reform bill which comes out of DC must include the establishment of a "Post Office Closing Commission" - similar to the widely successful military base closing commissions - which would make take-it-or-leave-it recommendations to Congress on which post offices should be closed. Congress can accept or reject the recommendations without changes. This allows Congress to shift the blame to someone else, making financially-wise facility closures more politically palatable.

Then there's the matter of the postal monopoly over YOUR mailbox. That's right. It's YOUR mailbox. If a someone runs over it, YOU have to pay to replace it, not the post office. So if it's YOUR mailbox, YOU should be the one to decided whether or not to allow the newspaper boy or FedEx to put deliveries into it to keep them dry and safe from adverse weather conditions. It should be an option. YOUR option. If you don't want anyone but the mailman putting things in your mailbox, fine. But if you want to open it to others, that should be fine, too. It's called consumer choice.

The post office strenuously objects to any such change. Their objection, they say, is security. They try to scare the dickens out of you by suggesting that once their monopoly access to the mailbox ends there will be an avalanche of mailbox bombings or other terrorist activities. But this is a red herring. If some nut wants to booby-trap your mailbox, they sure as heck aren't going to worry about being prosecuted for violating the USPS' mailbox monopoly law. I mean, let's get real here.

The second security red herring is that if you end the USPS' exclusive access to your mailbox that your mail could be stolen. Hello? People's mail is ALREADY being stolen, with much greater frequency these days. Sometimes even by postal employees themselves (gasp!).

Identity thieves who swipe mail from mailboxes, for some reason, aren't deterred by a law saying they don't have legal access to the mailbox. Go figure. Like gun-control laws, the monopoly access law does nothing to stop criminals; it only inconveniences the law-abiding. So any postal reform legislation coming out of Congress should strip this anachronistic monopoly from the USPS.

Ideally, the post office should be completely privatized. Realistically, that's not going to happen anytime soon. But at the very least Congress should begin the process of winding down, rather than ramping up, postal services by closing unnecessary facilities and operations, shifting more and more duties to private contractors and opening up mail delivery and mailbox access to the free market.

If the post office is going to survive, it needs to do so by competing on a fair, level playing field without being propped up by taxpayer dollars, preferences and a government-enforced monopoly. If the free market won't support what the post office is selling, then maybe the country no longer needs what the post office is selling. Just like candle-makers and blacksmiths. It's time to find out.

# # #

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at chuck@citizenoutreach.com

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I learned a lot and love the image of your grandpa delivering the mail through rain, sleet or hail during the war. :)

Sissy Willis
http://sisu.typepad.com

Deborah said...

Hi Sissy!

Thanks for the kind words. Coming from a blogger of your talent, they mean that much more :D

Come back anytime!