by Walter Brasch
Unless your life is centered upon an iPhone, an iPad, and an iEverything else, there is a possibility you may have actually bought a postage stamp, written a letter, and mailed it.
Contrary to popular opinion, snail-mail isn’t dead. Every day, except Sunday, the U.S. Postal Service handles about 660 million pieces of mail, and delivers them to about 150 million homes, businesses, and government offices.
However, there are a lot of people who wish the Postal Service was a dead letter. Here’s some of their claims—and the truth.
They claim the Postal Service is a burden upon us hard-working taxpayers.
Here’s the truth. The Postal Service is a quasi-government agency that doesn’t take taxpayer funds.
They claim the Postal Service is losing money.
Here’s the truth. That’s only because Congress in 2006 made it pre-fund health and pension benefits for 75 years. No other government agency or private company is required to do that. As a result, the Postal Service spends about $5.5 billion a year to meet an unreasonable demand by Congress. Last year, the Postal Service lost about $5 billion. Do the math.
Here’s another reality. The Postal Service has made innumerable changes to improve its financial situation. It laid off 28,000 workers—layoffs are something the right wing loves. But, the Postal Service also wanted to close 3,700 smaller offices to save even more money. That’s when Congress got its panties in a knot, and squelched any attempt to close and consolidate rural offices or have larger nearby offices absorb them. After all, you can’t close a rural local Postal Service in a Congressional district where the member of Congress has the need to get votes for re-election. That’s also why Congress had a collective stroke when the Postal Service adeptly outfoxed it by laying out a plan to cut about $2 billion of costs a year by cutting Saturday service, except for certain services, including delivery of medicines and express mail. Congress, which has spent most of the past six years gazing at their navels and then became blinded by staring into TV lights, didn’t want any of that nonsense and protested, forcing the Postal Service to reverse its proposed Saturday schedule.
The Postal Service has also proposed saving about $4.5 billion a year by stopping door-to-door delivery to about 35 million homes, and replacing it with a more efficient delivery to curbside mail boxes or clusters, such as what exist in apartment buildings. While saving money, there would be a huge disconnect that goes well beyond finances. The average homeowner, even if complaining about the Postal Service or its managers for any of a few dozen valid reasons usually respects the individual letter carrier who stops by daily, has a brief chat, and moves on to another house. Letter carriers also provide a service few other public servants can—they notice things. If a door is wide open and no one is at home, they may call police; if the resident is always on the porch when the mail is delivered or if mail piles up for two days, the letter carrier might also call police, just in case the resident had a medical emergency. And, every year there are stories of bravery among letter carriers who help save lives of homeowners who experience medical emergencies. There can be no price too high for the vigilance and the camaraderie these unionized governmental employees provide.
Nevertheless, the right-wing claims the entire Postal Service staff are overpaid, from your local letter carrier to the postmaster general, who earns about $276,840 a year, significantly below the salary of any CEO with similar responsibilities. The Tea Party—“Don’t Tread on Me Cuz We’re Rabid”—mob thinks everyone in government service is overpaid. Pick apart the scab that is the right-wing, and you learn they want to turn the Postal Service into a private enterprise without those pesky unions that help assure workers have fair wages, benefits, grievance rights and, most important, decent working conditions.
Under a private enterprise system, it’s quite possible the cost would no longer be upon only those who buy postage and other Postal Service services, but also upon those who receive mail. Persons who live in isolated and rural areas may have to pay larger fees than those in urban areas to receive mail. A private enterprise might increase its profits by accepting advertising—do you want an ad smeared onto your first class letter?—and “donations” from corporations to expedite certain mail to certain individuals. A private corporation, such as what some of the right-wing propose, would probably be more concerned with shareholder dividends than customer service. To maximize profits, the executive staff might resort to another private enterprise way to maximize profits by outsourcing the mail delivery to exploited workers in a third world nation.
Although the Constitution mandates a lower postal rate for publications, which the Founding Fathers believed was necessary to further the spread of information, the private corporation or corporations that slice up the delivery of mail might even go as far as to want to repeal that Constitutional clause; after all, second class media mail isn’t all that profitable and, far more important, the semi-literates who yell for privatization probably don’t think there’s a need for all them lib’ral left wing propaganda pieces, like Time and Forbes anyhow.
The Whackadoodle Wing, which has a morbid fear of anything that wasn’t created in the previous century, ironically cackles that the Postal Service is behind the times, that it falls well behind the technology of FedEx, UPS, and Ma Hoggworth’s All You Can Eat Diner and Firearms Exchange. The truth is the Postal Service, after lagging behind private industry, has upgraded and modernized its technology, and is adapting to the loss of first class mail revenue, which has been declining for the past decade because mankind took a bite of the Apple.
Nevertheless, no matter how much efficiency and technology the Postal Service implements in the next decade, it will never match what happened in 1775. That’s the year Ben Franklin became the first postmaster general and created what, at that time, was the most efficient system in the world for delivering mail.
If Franklin could see the country today, he would make a few suggestions to improve the Postal Service that others may not have thought about, but would probably approve what his creation had become. He would also recall the pettiness and politically-based lies that enveloped the Dark Ages of the early 19th century American politics, and might shed a tear of how far political pettiness and hatred had developed in the past decade.
[When Dr. Brasch began his column more than 25 years ago, his syndicate mailed or faxed it to newspapers. Now, it’s sent electronically to both print and electronic newspapers. Dr. Brasch’s latest book, which his publisher can mail at the media rate, is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster.]