In praise of the Post Office
The announcement that Saturday mail delivery may end in a cost-cutting move by the U.S. Postal Service has lots of people going, well, postal — just one of many pejorations associated with the the Post Office.
Give it a rest, I say. I have a quixotic affection for old-fashioned institutions — churches, newspapers, legislatures, universities that are not only online — that are vital to building and maintaining a culture, but which are endangered species these days.
The Post Office is one of those easy targets, and not always a fair one. Yes, the service can be maddening, and the USPS finances are appalling. Everyone wants to say it should operate “more like a business.” Well, news flash, but businesses often stink, and governmental or quasi-public agencies often do a better job — and they definitely do a better job of providing service to outlying areas or the underserved. That’s what public utilities do.
Also remember that the Post Office is floundering because Congress imposed an absurd “prefunding mandate” that requires the USPS to prefund the retiree health benefits for its workers 75 years in advance. That’s about $5.5 billion per year, and the source of many of its woes. “Neither snow nor rain…” Yada yada yada. But Congress?
Andrew Sullivan has been posting a number of updates on the Postal Service debate, and notes that the USPS’ return rate for missent letters is pretty impressive. And letters don’t cost that much, and mail carriers aren’t overpaid. He also highlights this Esquire paean to the Post Office, which leads thusly:
The postal service is not a federal agency. It does not cost taxpayers a dollar. It loses money only because Congress mandates that it do so. What it is is a miracle of high technology and human touch. It’s what binds us together as a country.
Amen, I say.
UPDATES: The Dish has more reax to the Saturday shift, and the overall USPS future.
Oh, plus bonus video: