Wednesday, December 14, 2011


"The way I understand it, the Soviets are sort of a combination of evil and incompetence... sort of like the Post Office with tanks."
-Emo Phillips

One of the fun facts about mail is that the Pony Express used to get mail across the country faster than it takes to mail a letter today. That's right, a skinny kid without weapons on a horse delivered mail quicker than cars and jets.

Last week, the US Postal Service announced it was going to cut half of its over 400 processing centers, which will make delivery even slower. James Bovard wrote in his book Lost Rights
In 1990, the Postal Service launched a nationwide plan to intentionally slow down mail delivery. First-class letters were already taking 20 percent longer to reach their destination than they had in 1969, but Postmaster General Anthony Frank assured Congress that the reduction in delivery standards would "improve our ability to deliver local mail on time."
They deliberately made service worse, in order to improve service. And yet costs keep skyrocketing, and Jeff Jacoby writes in the Boston Globe about one major reason:
The more things change in Postal World, the more they remain the same. In the 1960s, a stunning 83 percent of the agency’s total budget went to wages and benefits. Three decades later, after billions of dollars had been spent on automation, labor costs still accounted for 82 percent of the budget. And in 2011? "Decades of contractual promises made to unionized workers, including no-layoff clauses, are increasing the post office’s costs," The New York Times recently reported . "Labor represents 80 percent of the agency’s expenses, compared with 53 percent at United Parcel Service and 32 percent at FedEx, its two biggest private competitors."
Because the US Postal service has a virtual monopoly on mail delivery, because it is basically a government service, and because the unions are basically unopposed, they've seen their labor costs skyrocket over the years. It is legal for someone else to deliver mail, but they have to charge more than the US Postal service by law, and the delivery must be "extremely urgent."

Like the phone company in the 1970s, the postal service has become incredibly inefficient, delivers awful service, and gets away with it because they've got a government-mandated monopoly. That has to end.

The only way to save the postal service is to destroy it, by ending the monopoly and creating competition. That would destroy the union stranglehold on the USPS, which has almost killed it, and create a better system of mail delivery. Until that happens, its just going to get worse.


JoelAT said...

Provided they do not franchise, like the original break-up of Ma Bell did where you had no choice to whom you received your phone service from, I would be all for this. I know that seems counter-intuitive but being forced to stick to a single carrier when other, better service, better cost companies existed, but were not available was a mistake.

Philip said...

Another choke point is Congress, which must approve any and all major changes to the Post Office's operations.