The other day I had a packet of documents that needed to be shipped to the east coast for arrival the next day.
I started shopping around. Initially it made sense to ship it Fed Ex, since I was planning to make copies of my documents at the Fed Ex Office store (formerly Kinko’s), anyway–that is, until I found how much Fed Ex charged for the service–38 bucks for delivery by 5 pm.
So I went shopping online. UPS would have guaranteed delivery somewhat earlier–10:30 AM–for about the same price. They offered 6 pm delivery with their “Next Day Air Server” for a walloping savings of about a dollar.
Then I checked with the postal service. They guaranteed next day delivery by 3:30 for $18 and some change–in other words, nearly identical service for half the price of the competition.
Like most everyone else, I’ve had dealings with all three institutions over the years, and if I picked my brain carefully, I could probably recite good and bad experiences with all of them.
But at a time when the postal service is on the verge of insolvency and has been a part of many pundits’ fecal rosters for supposed inefficiency and poor service, I have to place myself among the dissenters who believe that our mail system delivers decent service for a reasonable cost.
Over the past few decades, Congress has expected the Postal Service to be more “businesslike”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Presumably, it means more efficient. The problem faced by the Postal Service is that Congress has tied its hands. It’s expected to maintain post offices in lightly populated rural areas, something not required of its counterparts.
As one online commentator pointed out,
“The Postal Service, although controlled by Congress, receives no public funding. It operates solely on the money that its patrons pay for its services.
“Back in the lame duck session of 2006, the Congress, still controlled by the Republicans, burdened the Postal Service with the oppressive requirement that the Postal Service set aside $5.5 billion (not million) annually of its operating budget for 10 years to fund employees’ pension funds up into the 2080s. The results of this requirement are now being felt.”
There are very few post offices in our world that can deliver a first class letter anywhere within as large a country as ours for less than half a dollar.
Complaining about the Post Office is one of America’s favorite participatory sports, akin to complaining about the weather.
Personally, I think the USPS is a bargain–I’d agree like a lot of other things, there’s room for improvement.
But if Congress expects the USPS to run like a business and stop losing money, it will need to give it more freedom to accomplish that goal.
Either that, or require other government enterprises to support themselves without tax subsidies–like the military.
For more on the current USPS crisis, read Save America’s Postal Service by Appleton Wonk.