The United States Postal Service is once again threatening to scale back service due to budget shortfalls.
Earlier this year the postal service warned that it would cut Saturday delivery if it didn’t get an emergency infusion of cash from the federal government to pay off its staggering debts.
Last week the USPS announced that, as part of a $3 billion cost-cutting plan to help it avoid bankruptcy, the agency planned to eliminate one-day delivery, such that all letters would be delivered in a minimum of two days , even if they’re only going next door. To get your letter delivered by the next day, you’ll have to go to the nearest processing center and drop off your letter before final pickup, thus carrying out half of the mail delivery service yourself.
Complicating matters, the postal service expects to close half of its processing centers and reduce its workforce by 100,000 employees over the next few years through layoffs, attrition, and retirement.
The postal service has known about its financial woes for years. Yet statist Congresses have forbidden it from taking effective action to right its situation. Its current debt is a result of its failure to make $5.5 billion in annual payments to cover its insanely generous retiree packages.
Many USPS sympathizers insist we should do anything we can to preserve this great American institution. Senator Susan Collins, RINO of Maine, has proposed the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2011. Recently she wailed, “Time and time again in the face of more red ink, the postal service puts forward ideas that could well accelerate its death spiral.”
I say good riddance.
There are plenty of private, for-profit mail and shipping services that can do exactly what the postal service does—better, faster, cheaper, and more reliably—in part because they remain unencumbered by business-unfriendly postal unions, lavish retirement benefits, and redundant administrative functions.
I feel the same way about bailing out the post office that I do about bailing out my home city of New York’s metro service, which forever seems to be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and in dire need of just one more blast of cash from Albany. My recommendation: Don’t give them another penny. Let the private market absorb as much of these failing public institutions’ business as possible, in order to facilitate the ultimate transition to complete privatization. In the case of the subway/bus system, that means letting some of the overflow in transportation demand go to taxis, private bus/car services, rental/private cars, carpooling, bicycles, or walking. It may mean a temporary, painful period of crowding and poor service in which the public clamors for—and finally gets—privatization of the metro service.
In the case of the postal service, it means that United Parcel Service, FedEx, et al. will pick up the slack of no-longer-delivered Saturday mail, and will carry out the next-day mail service the postal service no longer provides. Companies and private citizens will expand their use of e-mail, faxes, direct deposit, smartphone apps, and online billing and payment to handle important, time-sensitive communications and functions. This is what they’ve been doing anyway for the past two decades—which is part (but not all) of the reason for the old-fashioned, unenterprising USPS’s woes.
In a surprisingly clearheaded, unsentimental article  in The New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal admitted, after describing a petition to save Saturday delivery that had appeared in her Manhattan building’s lobby, “I will not say whether I signed. But I will tell you what arrived in my mailbox that Saturday: two credit card offers; a Linen Source catalog for someone who used to live in my apartment; a notice of a sale on running shoes; some coupons for 10 percent off on pizza delivery; three promotional letters about colleges; and a bank letter about changing terms on my son’s high-school checking account for 2012.” (Evidently the Times let environmentalist Rosenthal off the leash to criticize the USPS because of the billions of pounds of wasteful junk mail distributed each year.)
For those who plead that the USPS is a great, democratizing institution that delivers a variety of important types of mail to underserved residents who vitally need it: The bulk of USPS’s costs these days are funded by mass market advertisers who get discounts for flooding our mailboxes with glossy flyers and brochures for high-end furniture, home decor items, and clothing. As with so many instances of government involvement in the economy, the USPS chooses winners by subsidizing mail order companies to send us junk catalogs.
Critics of five-day-a-week service claim that, as an advanced nation, we can’t allow the travesty of not having Saturday mail delivery, which would slow business and render our communications system like that of a developing nation.
Nonsense. As long as we allow for private enterprise to step in, we’ll be even more efficient and advanced than if the USPS had a greater role in our mail delivery system. Even most Western European nations have privatized mail delivery.
Why should there be one near-monopolistic, government-controlled service that has legal prerogative to shut out private companies from central mail delivery functions? Why should our mail delivery system constantly verge on bankruptcy? What’s advanced about that?
After the USPS cuts Saturday service, the next logical steps are to cut: Friday service, Thursday service, Wednesday service, Tuesday service, and Monday service.