Sunday, August 07, 2011

A short note on the idiocy of the United States Postal Service 

The United States Postal Service is now losing a billion dollars a month with no chance of recovery in sight.

The Postal Service is -- obviously -- a vast and enormously expensive agency that is losing its purpose in the world. Like the linked blogger, with one small exception (letters from my daughter who is in boarding school) I get nothing of value in the mail. It is all junk, an obvious burden on municipal waste systems, and an enormous hassle every time I leave town, which is more or less every week. I have moved almost entirely online, except for communications with organizations that are too lame to deal with their customers on that basis. I get very few physical publications. Paper checks are such a hassle that I take ages to deposit them. The postal service does not do anything I need, or cannot do by some other means.

Recognizing that some Americans are not so far along the path to modernity, is it not by now obvious that in just a few years (if it has not already happened) electronic means will supplant virtually all low value physical distribution of information? Should we not develop a ten or fifteen year plan for winding down the post office? Kill off regular mail delivery, and if the package delivery business can be salvaged as a third competitor to FedEx and UPS, privatize that.

Many of our post office buildings would make awesome restaurants, malls, or offices for small businesses. Let's end it with dignity, now, when we can do so with some deliberation, and salvage what value we can.


By Anonymous Roy Ellis, at Sun Aug 07, 09:42:00 AM:

Yeah, that makes sense for sons of privilege making good bucks, living in densely populated and prosperous Princeton, in good health and in the prime of life.

Consider however that a huge portion of this huge country does not share those fortunate circumstances. Old, sick, low-income, rural and urban folks don't have life circumstances that easily lend themselves to "let's do it all online".

The USPS needs restructuring and cost savings (by far their biggest burden is pensions, which is a huge problem for all public sector functions). But it fulfills a vital role for the citizens of this republic. Universal service ties this huge and diverse nation together.  

By Blogger dmoelling, at Sun Aug 07, 09:48:00 AM:

Mail still has a quasi-legal aspect that is hard to duplicate in email etc.

That said a real privatization could me made to work. This is an organization that makes daily deliveries to every company and household in the USA. I just got a package that was sent by UPS smartmail. UPS sends the package to a regional USPS center where is is then sent by mail.

Just like AMTRAK it is the labor protections that hobble the USPS.  

By Anonymous E Hines, at Sun Aug 07, 10:42:00 AM:

I'm not sure I'd do away with the USPS. The Constitution mandates a postal service function (from Art II, Sec 8: "To establish Post Offices and Post Roads[.]" Nothing in there about monopolies, though.

I'd privatize the service, entirely, and let any company that wants into the business enter and compete. The market will determine the level, cost, etc of the service.

And that competition will vastly improve the service. I'm tired of getting my mail rerouted to someone else, or getting the mail from someone else with the same house number but in another city, because the USPS can't be bothered to read addresses. Or all the mail on our street delivered to the next house up because the carrier was zoning on the job and lost track of where he was on his route.

Eric Hines  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Aug 07, 11:29:00 AM:

What mechanism would you suggest to replace the cash contributions that postal unions make the democrats in Congress? And, simply suggesting that wealthier unions can make up the differences would only lead to union warfare.  

By Anonymous E Hines, at Sun Aug 07, 01:54:00 PM:

What mechanism would you suggest to replace the cash contributions that postal unions make the democrats in Congress?

There's already a check-off box on our 1040s that lets us choose to designate $3 to go to the Federal Campaign Fund for Indigent Candidates. That simply becomes another Progressive tax, marked to supplement existing union support. After all, union behavior benefits all of us. It's only the patriotic thing that all of us chip in and pay our share.

Eric Hines  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Sun Aug 07, 05:43:00 PM:

Did you not get something prized in the mail when you were young? Why the continued Post Office hatred?

Can it be run better? Sure. Do we need six days home delivery" Probably not. The employees have even stopped "going postal".

The PO is in the Constitution and it binds us a nation. 'Nuff said. The PO's deficit is a rounding error in what we're dealing with. The last thing we want to do is to beggar the legitimate functions of our federal government, which are actually few and should be world class.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Aug 08, 12:18:00 AM:

And then there's love letters.  

By Anonymous JT, at Mon Aug 08, 06:50:00 AM:

I just read we gave the 'UN' 8 billion last year ... compare and contrast what we get for that.

The USPS isn't allowed to make a profit, as I understand it, and not everyone can or wants to pay bills online, or to pay UPS or Fedex to 'mail' or ship things.

The bigger issue isn't a measly billion a month ... it's chump change in the scheme of things. A billion falls out of each congressman's pocket walking to their limo each night from 'work'. It's the entitlements, the wars we fund worldwide, the R&D we underwrite for the planet, the medications we sell cheaper everywhere else, the billions pissed way on bases around the globe, and the fact that we border a third world shithole and won't close the lid.

and that's just for starters

I just hope the electorate is learning their lesson. Even the Canadian dollar is worth more than ours now. Who would have believed it?  

By Anonymous JT, at Mon Aug 08, 06:54:00 AM:

Full disclosure ... my identical twin is a 'Postie' ... the linked article perpetrating the popular 'wisdom' of the highly compensated postal worker is bull ... 3.5% over a 4 year contract, with the first lofty 1% at the end of 2012. Go find out what the last 'raise' was.

And the pension? There were many versions over the years, but currently I think it's 1% per year of service, and you need at least 25 and 55 y/o to get that plus the modest supplement to bridge til age 62/social security (yes, they pay into that also).

It's not what people think, and some of them actually work.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Aug 08, 08:50:00 AM:

I am sure there are many devoted postal workers. And I am also sure that right now, today, there are still a lot of people who use the mail to conduct business. No argument. But is it not evident that the writing is on the wall, that the physical delivery of big wads of paper every day will soon be a waste of effort? My point is that we need to plan for the day when the whole concept is obsolete (as it already is for most people who are younger than, say, 40 and who have any online savvy at all). I have no idea whether that day is 2025 or 2050 -- neither are long periods when one is talking about a subsidized organization as vast as the USPS. But we need a plan so people have time to prepare.

I would start by killing off mail delivery, although not Saturday. The only stuff I enjoy that comes in the mail comes on Saturday (The Economist). Beyond that, Saturday is an excellent day for paying those few bills that require a check, writing letters, etc., and if you do not live near a mail box having the dude come by and take your mail is very useful on Saturday. So start by killing Wednesday. Then experiment with non-USPS solutions in rural areas where mail delivery is particularly expensive, and go from there. But the details barely matter. The critical point is that we need a plan, because eventually the number of voters who agree with me will tip the scales and there will be demands to do it fast, and that would be very disruptive for a lot of people.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Aug 08, 08:56:00 AM:

By the way. I've expressed this opinion a couple of times, and I still get the same objections -- that there are still people today who need the post office. The point of the exercise, though, is to think ahead a bit strategically. One of the problems with our public discourse, I think, is that so few people think ahead. Yes, we need to know where the puck is. We also need to know where it is going, and I have yet to hear an argument that the USPS will be as relevant in 2050 as it is even today. Well, do we want it to become another vestigial government program that has long outlived its purpose but continues in place because so many employees and maladjusted businesses are dependent on the subsidy?  

By Anonymous Jeff in AZ, at Mon Aug 08, 11:15:00 AM:

Thinking ahead, I forsee a time in the near future where the economy collapses, government is in chaos, no one is available to operate satlelites, the ones that are still in orbit, and the only means of communicating will be by physical delivery of information. But it won't be by the USPS. It will be by whatever means is around. Horses come to mind. :)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Aug 08, 11:38:00 AM:

I have to kindly disagree. I still use paper checks and still pay all of my bills through the mail. I prefer a real paper trail and do not trust that any computer system cannot be hacked and my information stolen and sold or my accounts drained. These types of activities happen every day. So maybe the Postal Service needs to lose some of the extra weight and lower the pensions, which is where they lose most of the money. I by the way am younger than you but still like the old fashioned ways of doing things, I still don't own a cell phone.  

By Anonymous SongDog, at Mon Aug 08, 11:55:00 AM:

At the risk of coining a phrase, ditto to Anonymous. I am not satisfied that online security is sufficient to depend upon it for all financial transactions that could be done my mail. When I haven't read another hacking story for say, two years, then perhaps it should be considered.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Aug 08, 12:48:00 PM:

Mailing around checks with account and routing numbers does not exactly minimize hacking risk. FWIW. And I find the record-keeping in online transactions to be much simpler than in paper transactions. But I agree that tastes will differ. I suppose the question should be whether the postal service and all its infrastructure is a good solution to the issues people raise here. Because its original function -- basic communication in daily life -- is well on its way to obsolete.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Aug 08, 02:07:00 PM:

That happened to us a year or so ago. My wife paid by check at a retail store for about $30 worth of merchandise. We figure that the cashier pocketed the check and made the till balance. We started getting checks back in our statement with someone else's name and address but our account and routing numbers. They must have had a check printing machine with the correct magnetic ink and OCR font, or perhaps if you give your numbers to a check printing company, they don't do any certification.


By Blogger luagha, at Mon Aug 08, 02:59:00 PM:

Charge more for junk mail. Make it pay for itself.

Last time I checked, presorted junk mail's revenues were 95% of the cost to deliver it. It was subsidized by first class mail. That was a long time ago.

But if junk mail is subsidized, that's gotta stop. It has to pay for itself, and if that means advertising goes down, that's what it means.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Mon Aug 08, 06:20:00 PM:

Perhaps the answer is to put the entire operation out for bids and let private enterprise run it, free from congressional interference?

Otherwise, I can see lots of places to amputate and apply the tourniquet but a billion/month is a lot of bleeding to stop.  

By Blogger Stack Trace, at Mon Aug 08, 06:27:00 PM:

Like it or not, when you send a check to a business, it just becomes information. It becomes rows in a SQL database. You can hang on to the quaint notion of a "paper trail", but the fact is, the paper trail is already a thing of the past. Sure, hang on to the check if you want, but the rest of the system has already moved over, or is actively working on it.

All of the financial institutions that I deal with (bank, investments, 401k, etc.) have already converted over to online statements. I love it. I used to file account statements, then I used to scan them, and now I just keep the last few months and then shred them. Sometimes I download the statements so I have my own copy, but I'm willing to rely on my investment companies having better security and reliability than my own home computer. (And I'm a software engineer.)

My step father has worked as a postal carrier for about 20 years now. He loves it, mainly because he's a very outdoors kinda guy, and very sociable. But the level of dysfunction and inefficiency that he sees in the offices is just staggering. Endless chains of managers with nothing to do. People playing Solitaire all day long. Expensive new services that no one uses. Redundant rural offices, right next to each other. Endless time-and-motion studies, whose end result is no change at all.

I don't think the USPS should be shut down. It should simply be run rationally. I'm also willing to accept a certain level of funding non-profitable activities, like running rural post offices at a loss. But the level of inefficiency that I hear about, from a 20 year worker, is just staggering.

Even if $1B/month is chump change, there's no reason to mismanage it. It's *our* chump change, after all.  

By Blogger Stephen, at Mon Aug 08, 07:46:00 PM:

ignoramus, the MSM is dying too. No one would say the press is obsolete. It is also part of the constitution. Personally I hate the MSM with a passion. I am looking forward to the legacy media going out of business and being replaced by the new media. Not everyone gets their news online, but as far as I am concerned that does not mean we subsidize existing news organizations to keep them around.  

By Blogger Cas, at Tue Aug 09, 05:05:00 AM:

I agree with Luagha; most of my headache with my mail is NOT the actual bills, or letters from friends (yes, some people still put pen to paper!) but all the unsolicited garbage I receive, about offers I don't want, because someone has sold them my name and address. At least for e-mail, I have a spam filter, but I hate wasting at least 1/2 hour twice a week to filter the chaff. Increase the rates for advertising flyers and the like, and perhaps they will pay the freight for those who still need to use first class mail!
My other problem is deep-seated (philosophically), and not confined to just postal workers; I'm sure the founders never envisioned public employee unions when they wrote Art II, Sec 8...so why should we restrict our written communications delivery service to a "non-profit" organization that is obviously being run for the benefit of the workers, rather than the customers?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 09, 05:21:00 PM:

Not everyone agrees with your idea of modern.It seems cold, quick, impersonal and lacking in imagination.I enjoy seeing and speaking to my mailman, dealing with a small bank in Richmond,VA and small,old firms, where people know and care about me. Quality still exists and smiles and handshakes brighten a day.Our country is on the wrong track.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Aug 09, 05:44:00 PM:

P.S.Going back to Maine is a super idea.Stay in a small,friendly town with natives and leave all the electronics behind. Enjoy your walk to the post office. Thanks for letting me sound off.  

By Anonymous Hämorrhoiden Behandlung, at Wed Aug 10, 03:00:00 PM:

I have had similar issues in the past and it drove me nuts!  

By Anonymous SouthernRoots, at Sun Aug 14, 01:57:00 AM:

But...but...but... Washington just passed a law making all counties vote by mail...

Will a private service still allow us to only pay a $0.43 vote shipping poll tax, or will the rate go up?  

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