Thursday, August 26, 2010
The United States Postal Service is losing $1 billion per month. This is not surprising, because nothing important must by needs come in the mail any more. With all due respect to the post office's place in the national psyche (such as it is) and the imperatives of catalog merchants, we need a long term plan to wind down this now obsolete agency with an adequate transition for its employees and few remaining customers. By 2015, 2020 at the latest, the USPS will have no purpose more important than the manufacture of buggy whips.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
USPS does not deliver to my address - I live on a private road, about a mile from the state highway. So everyone goes down to the post office and gets his mail from his PO box.
UPS and FedEx come right up the hill to my door. Score one for private enterprise.
USPS will not deliver ammunition. Icky-poo.
I can order online from Cabela's or CTD or R&G and FedEx or UPS will bring it right to my door. Score two.
Finally, USPS charges two to three times as much to deliver any given package as does FedEx or UPS. Score three.
I am not surprised the Postal System is losing money - I am surprised they're still operating at all.
I'm hesitant to opt for the abolition of the postal service, no matter how much it's out-performed by private entities. The ability to move and deliver documents among its citizenry seems like an important ability for a government to possess.
Placing things like draft notices (should they return), census forms, tax documents, and other such things wholly in the hands of private entities could give them an awful lot of influence over government operations or individual citizens. If companies refused to deliver to an area (dangerous to employees, perhaps) or an individual (maybe they owe a lot of money to the companies) the non-recipients might get screwed in all sorts of ways. Delivery as a government function allows for a fall-back.
Remember the Post Office used to deliver twice a day in the big cities. This was before the growth of public sector unions. The USPS had to take one of the 'no-layoff' deals like AMTRAK, so as you might expect service has declined accordingly.
An entity with the infrastructure for nationwide local service and quasi-governmental certification power should be able to peform many services. For example, why hire temporary census workers when the Postal Service (a more flexible version to be true), could have performed this job at lower cost.
I'm with DF 82. Post offices are in the Constitution -- not required by such, but expected. I'd rather our federal govt stick to enumerated responsibilities. A billion dollar loss per month is but a rounding error these days.
Once upon a time bills to name local post offices after local notables was the most significant activity of our congresscritters, measured by volume. It kept them busy.
There is a very real question whether meaningful paper documents ought to survive this decade. I think they should not. I suspect that by 2020 it would be cheaper to make sure that everybody with a physical address has broadband and a device for reading documents than sustain the USPS and its retiree benefits, which seem incapable of reform otherwise.
TH, are you saying you would require everyone with a mailing address to purchase a pc and a broadband connection, sort of like being required to purchase insurance under 0bamacare? Or are you proposing that Government buys everyone a PC and a broadband connection and then trains them how to use it?
Does that sound like libertarian thinking to you?
My late father learned to use a computer and as his health failed it provided him a great connection to the outside world. He switched most of his bill paying to online means.
When he died, it took me months to locate all the passwords and to try to transfer accounts to my mother's name. Many vendors refused to enact a transfer even to a surviving spouse.
Mother was inexperienced with computers, and it was a no brainer to transfer all utilities, credit cards, etc. back to paper billing through the USPS. Life is much simpler, Mother feels in control of her finances, I weekly review and enter her bills into Quicken and she mails out her checks on her own schedule.
There are many millions of Americans like my mother, the USPS may be financially crippled but it still has an important service to provide.
Oh no...where will I get my gossip if they close the post office?
Our mailperson often comes down the driveway (almost a half mile) and leaves bulky mail on the porch.
I do most of my shopping online, including Walmart sometimes. Fed Ex is pricey and they've lost my stuff. Since I don't have a receipt, never having gotten the merchandise, I'm at the mercy of the seller to validate my claim...
...I only trust Fed Ex when Amazon backs them up.
TH - you are out of touch with rural America. The USPS is still a hub in small towns, with lots of physical mail exchange that has community and personal importance, not to mention the fact that everyone knows all the carriers and the window workers, and vice versa.
Lots of people around here don't have computers, couldn't afford them, and have no interest in them. They still read the daily paper for news. Many don't even have internet access, even if they wanted it.
Plus, I don't like the idea of our movement toward complete dependence on the power grid.
"There is a very real question whether meaningful paper documents ought to survive this decade. "
The whole point of paper documents is that they do survive. In case of a dispute, you have hard evidence to hand.
Digital documents are as reliable as soap bubbles.
Alas, I believe the most significant effect of your observation will be to increase the union dues of all who work for the USPS. Union bosses and fat cats will call for a major campaign to fight the new effort to replace the postal service.
Again, nobody is suggesting that we ought not subsidize important communications. The only question is whether we should subsidize moving around physical printed documents or electrons. Eventually, probably within a decade, the maintenance of a massive infrastructure to move around printed documents will probably become obviously stupid, but by then we will have another ten years of expensive postal union retiree benefits accrued, and so forth. Since I believe that there is some day in the future -- 2020, 2030, 2040, you pick it -- when we will want to get rid of the postal service, we should probably put together a long-term plan now for the slow consolidation of post offices and the slow reduction of postal employees. Perhaps we start with a national hiring freeze, and staff vacancies by moving around postal employees just as businesses do. Perhaps we slowly reduce the frequency of mail delivery -- Saturday delivery became wasteful years ago, and we could almost certainly accomplish all the meaningful objectives of the system with Mon, Wed, and Friday delivery. Perhaps we start leveraging the postal service to do other things. As one of the other commenters pointed out, why on earth couldn't we have used the postal service to do the census, too? Tell the carriers that for six months we will suspend mail delivery on Saturdays and alternate Wednesdays, and on those days they will carry a clipboard and round up derelict census non-responders. After six months of no Saturday mail delivery, people would probably be used to it and we would be off to a fine state.
While I have graduated from quill to fountain pen, or a roller ball I like, I don't mind the thought of my letters not being delivered on a Saturday. Or the alternate Wednesday. Luddite I may well be, but for notes of a personal nature, as much as I email, I like the act and art of writing them out.
"we need a long term plan to wind down this now obsolete agency."
The USPS is not the only federal agency where this might apply; consider a life without EPA, OSHA, Minerals Mgmt, or Dept of Education. All of these functions could be handled cheaper and more responsively by an oversight organization similar to the internet Number Resource Organization. Enforcement of regulations could primarily be through market forces and information.
We need to rethink all of these concepts if we truly want to downsize government. Government entities, programs, and agencies WILL have to go away.