Friday, February 8, 2013

Going Postal (Redux): Part 1

 Last April, The Blog posted his thoughts, ideas and a bit of schooling about the trials and tribulations of the United States Postal Service.

This week, in another attempt to pull themselves from the brink of extinction, the USPS announced new cuts to services to take effect in August of this year.

Tonight, as a refresher to bring you, my blogglitts, up to speed in advance of tomorrow night's post about the new policies, that column is reposted below.


"The government can never do anything as efficiently as private business can."
                                                                                            --The Conservative Mantra

I hear this from my conservative friends all the time.

Of course, it's nonsense.

If we learned nothing else from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should have learned that hiring mercenaries private contractors to fight our battles costs way more money and is filled with more potential disaster than using the government's own military.

Medicare operates on a 2 to 3% overhead, as opposed to private medical insurance, which takes 18 to 30% off the top. Not to mention the private "Medicare Plus" companies that make their profits by inflating medical costs and passing them on to the government (aka: the taxpayers.)

We have private police forces in this country. Much like military contractors they exist in addition to, rather than instead of, public police.

In the early 1980s, private utility companies began to replace many public utility companies. Rather than creating the "competitive environment" that was promised, they merely replaced "public monopolies" with private monopolies, driving up prices for electricity, gas, water and trash collection. Here in Los Angeles County, suburbs that are forced to use the for profit Southern California Edison Co. for their electricity pay a whopping 40% more for power than the residents of the city of Los Angeles, who get their electricity from The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Can you imagine private, for profit fire departments? I can. And, it isn't a pretty picture!

Which brings me to The United States Postal Service.

It used to be that we only heard about what a mess the USPS was whenever they had the gaul to raise postage rates a penny or so. But, now that the right-wing has dropped all pretense about their desire to privatize absolutely everything, the Post Office is under constant attack. After a failed attempt to break the Postal Worker's Union a year or two ago, conservatives have moved to their default argument that since the Post Office is operating in the red, the Post Office is a failure.

Here are a few facts about the USPS....

    •    The United States Post Office was established in 1775, a full year before the country declared it's independence.
    •    Not one single penny of tax dollars are used to fund the USPS. All funding comes from postage and ancillary merchandise.
    •    The Post Office was never intended to make a profit.

Here is one more, unfortunate fact...

    •    The USPS is in trouble. Email has taken a big chunk out of the Post Office's business. Operating costs are rising faster than postal rates. And any raising of those rates must be approved by Congress (in spite of the fact that Congress does not fund them.)

The USPS has tried numerous ways to raise revenue. The Blog recalls a Mad Magazine piece published in the late '70s suggesting that the Post Office could raise revenue by selling advertising space on their stamps. A decade later, they began doing just that and they still do today. A bit more subtle than Mad's suggestion. But, if you have ever bought a sheet of stamps "honoring" DC Comics Super-heroes (ironically, DC currently owns Mad Magazine,) The Universal Monsters or Disney/ Pixar characters, then you have seen examples of sponsored postage.

The Post Office also sells packing materials, boxes, envelopes and labels. But, for all of that, we are forced to admit that the Post Office is losing money at an alarming rate.

Why is that?

To answer that, let's go back, for a moment to the issue of efficiency.

Can anyone name another business that can take your three inch by six inch, 1 oz. paper packet and get it to a destination anywhere in the United States in three days or less, for 45¢? That is a price that is less than you could buy... well... pretty much anything for, these days. Sure, they occasionally misdirect or lose one of those packets. But, for every lost letter, millions make it to their destination quickly and yes, efficiently.

Did I mention that the cost is 45¢?

So, are the Post Office's problems caused by government inefficiency or the "greedy" postal union?


The problem is that the Post Office offers it's services at a stupid cheap rate!

So, I would like to make a modest proposal.

The USPS should hire a couple of numbers crunchers to figure out the actual, break even cost of delivering a First Class letter. Once that cost is established, the Post Office should raise the postage rate to that amount.

Of course, "conservative's" heads will explode. But, they'll get over it. For the same reason that they shop at Wal-Mart. Because...

The Blog is not a betting man. But, if he was, he would bet that the cost would still be substantially lower than the cost of sending the same letter via private, for profit carriers like UPS or FedEx. And more efficiently.

Would anyone like to explain to me why I'm wrong?

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