The Postal Service Mails a Suicide Note

The U.S. Postal Service has announced a plan to close hundreds of mail processing centers, to stem its red ink. This will delay all deliveries, and virtually eliminate any next-day delivery for ordinary mail. Meantime, there has already been a round of post office closings, and a further round is in process.

For me, running an active mail order business, this is a big deal. My local post office was closed in April. Though initially told my P.O. Box could be moved to another (equidistant) post office with no address change, this was not done. The address change (which they botched) was a major hassle. And now that I’ve settled into the new post office, it too is on the chopping block. I’ll be moved again, to a smaller post office, rather farther away, with inadequate parking, and likely longer lines.

The Postal Service’s financial trouble is understandable. The internet is eating its lunch. I used to mail over a thousand pricelists annually that I now send by e-mail. And many customers now pay me electronically too.

But surely the answer is not to keep mindlessly raising prices and degrading service. That’s a death spiral. The higher the prices, the poorer the service, the greater the inconvenience, ever more mailers will look ever harder for ways to avoid using the Postal Service altogether. Netflix, for example, has had a nice thing going with its quick turn-around, and must be contributing mightily to postal revenues. Kill next-day delivery and you probably kill Netflix – or at least the Netflix service using the U.S. mail. Great thinking, Postal Service guys.

Of course one doesn’t expect great thinking from a bloated quasi-governmental quasi-monopoly bureaucracy.

Here’s some more great thinking it has produced. In the past, postal rates were based on weight and distance. Now they’re based on weight, distance, size, shape, and thickness, a crazy-quilt of different rates that nobody can really apply properly. (And, when they change prices, just try getting them to provide you with the new rate charts.)

Rule One for any business: make it easy for customers.

Actually, if service must be cut (and it probably must) the no-brainer would be to end six-day delivery. At least that would not be a serious imposition on mailers like me. While eliminating Saturday delivery has been discussed, I have a better idea: Tuesday. Cutting Saturday would create a 3-day gap between deliveries (and a Monday pile-up); Tuesday, only a 2-day gap. Further, because so much mail is already delivered on Mondays, Tuesdays are very light mail days. Yet all the carriers still have to make their rounds. Eliminating this would be a huge and sensible efficiency.

But the problem is that any such change requires Congressional approval. ‘Nuff said. Even if Congress were not so dysfunctional anyway, why would a Congressperson risk the inevitable “He voted to cut your . . . “ campaign ad? Acting responsibly carries little political reward in today’s America, it seems.

It’s easy to make mock, but this is serious. American “exceptionalism”? I’d be happy with American normalcy. Fact is, in a lot of ways, we are on a path to becoming a second rate country. Normalcy among advanced nations in today’s world, in things like rail service, airports, broadband, and other aspects of infrastructure, is at a higher level than what we’ve got. Normalcy is a health care system that costs less than ours and produces outcomes as good or better. And normalcy for a first-rate country does not encompass a shambolic postal service that’s in a death spiral.

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3 Responses to “The Postal Service Mails a Suicide Note”

  1. Lee Says:

    If it weren’t for the mention of the post office in the US Constitution the privatize-government folks would have had it eliminated long ago. The best they have been able to achieve is keeping the post office as far back in the stone age as possible. Internet services are verbotten, etc.

    So, call the present developments a success for privatizing government. Go find a private provider. Hopefully you’ll guess well and won’t have to switch more than once or twice more as the competition eliminates players.

    [FSR comment: as a former utility regulator, I appreciate the concept of a “natural monopoly;” and postal delivery of small items to homes is a natural monopoly, in that it would make no economic sense for multiple providers to compete for that business. But the problem with such monopolies is the tendency to get “fat and happy.” That was true of the Postal Service for too long; and suddenly circumstances are forcing it to wake up from that stupor.]

  2. Dan Van Riper Says:

    I am beginning to suspect that the plan is to shut down the PO because the corporate authorities (and their politicians) can’t snoop the contents of letters the way they can with electronic mail. Nor can they automatically store written letters in an electronic box and retrieve them at any time in the future, like they can with emails, etc.

    I have no evidence for this assertion. I’m just sayin’ that this is the only rational explanation that I can think of for the PO’s bizarre campaign to shut off easy public access to their communication system.

    [FSR response: Dan, thanks for your two comments. You seem to have a fixation on the word “corporate” and receptivity to absurd conspiracy theories. The rational explanation for what the Postal Service is doing is simply that mail volumes, and revenues therefrom, have been inexorably falling; and constraints imposed by Congressional legislation (such as mandatory 6-day delivery) rule out the most sensible options.]

  3. Dan Van Riper Says:

    Mr. Robinson-

    You seem to have a politically approved fixation on denying the fact that this country is sliding into a corporate dictatorship. At this point in time that takes a lot of effort. Personally, I find it takes a lot less energy to accept reality than it does to deny reality. Perhaps you have found the opposite to be true for you.

    I guess sitting on train tracks is a lot easier if you don’t think about trains.

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