The U.S. Postal Service has decided to end Saturday delivery of letters to homes and businesses. The move will take effect in August and is designed to address financial issues that the Postmaster General describes as “urgent.”
“Urgent” is one way to describe the financial condition of the Postal Service; another apt word would be “calamitous.” The Postal Service lost $15.9 billion last year. The elimination of Saturday delivery to most Postal Service customers will save $2 billion annually, so the Postal Service has a ways to go to get back into the black. The president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, predictably, calls the decision a “disastrous idea” that would hurt the millions of Americans who depend on Saturday delivery, but I think eliminating Saturday delivery is an easy and obvious cost-saving decision. I, for one, am willing to grudgingly give up the possibility of getting junk mail, catalogs, and political contribution solicitations over the weekend.
What’s especially interesting about the Postal Service decision is that it was made notwithstanding congressional inaction on Postal Service efforts to obtain approval of cost-cutting reforms. In fact, Congress had been including a ban on five-day delivery in prior appropriations bills, but because Congress hasn’t passed an appropriations bill within the memory of most living Americans, and instead has resorted to funding the government through “temporary” spending bills, the ban doesn’t apply. In short — and this is sweet, indeed — Congress’ inability to function has come back to bite it and cleared the way for the Postal Service to act in the name of fiscal sanity.
We’ll have to come up with new synonyms for “inactive” to describe our dysfunctional Congress. I think “leaden,” “inert,” “dormant,” and “irresponsible” are all good options.
Kish and I like to think of ourselves as patriotic Americans. So, when Russell asked us to ship something to him, we decided to use the U.S. Postal Service. Hey, we subsidize it, so we might as well use it!
We boxed up some sturdy stoneware plates and glasses and other dishes, using bubble wrap and newspaper to cushion and protect them on their journey to Brooklyn. We took them to the post office and sent them by first-class mail. It cost about $13. That was weeks ago.
The box never arrived. We don’t know if it was mis-delivered, or stolen, or destroyed by some maddened postal worker who decided to take out his frustrations on our parcel rather than his co-workers. Whatever our package’s unhappy fate, it didn’t make it to its intended Brooklyn destination. In fairness, Kish points out that this is the first time one of our postal deliveries to Richard and Russell just . . . disappeared. To that I can only respond that it has now happened, where that has never happened to a package I’ve sent by FedEx or one of the other private delivery companies.
I like those new Postal Service commercials where the agreeable postal worker convinces nutty people that shipping really isn’t that complicated. That’s right — it isn’t, or shouldn’t be. How would that affable postal worker react when a package just vanishes, and your plates, and your $13, just go poof?
Let’s face it — the Postal Service, as we know it, is doomed. How many people write letters anymore? How many people under the age of 30 have ever even received a handwritten letter?
The U.S. Postal Service lost $2.2 billion in the first quarter of this year. $2.2 billion! Why? There are at least three reasons. First, usage has declined dramatically. More people now communicate primarily by text or email. The post is used largely for commercial mail, and even that usage has declined in the face of the recession and the decided economic advantages of relying on electronic rather than paper-and-stamp missives. Second, postal delivery is highly labor-intensive, and gas-intensive, when electronic mail is neither. And there isn’t much the Postal Service, in its current form, can do to change that fact. You can only squeeze so much efficiency out of an approach that requires a guy on a truck to physically deliver junk mail to every stop on his route. And third, the Postal Service is blessed with congressional oversight, which makes closing unprofitable outposts in small towns a political tug-of-war and has kept the Postal Service from achieving savings by eliminating unprofitable Saturday delivery.
The Postal Service has long been a dinosaur; now it has become a fossil. Any rational person knows this. If Congress and the President are serious about getting rid of deficit spending, our subsidies of the Postal Service seem like a good place to start. Let’s stop them, and let the Postal Service do what it thinks it must to be competitive. If it fails, so be it. If we can’t sacrifice Saturday delivery of junk mail and bills in order to get our “fiscal house in order,” we’ll never be serious about cutting spending and balancing the budget.