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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:

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"The postal service is not a federal agency." This statement appears overly broad. I suspect different titles of the U.S. Code may offer different definitions of "federal agency", etc. depending on particular matters being addressed in the law.***39 USC 101. Postal policy (a) The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people.***39 USC 201. United States Postal Service There is established, as an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States, the United States Postal Service.***39 USC 1001. Appointment and status (a) Except as otherwise provided in this title, the Postal Service shall appoint all officers and employees of the Postal Service. (b) Officers and employees of the Postal Service (other than those individuals appointed under sections 202, 204, and 1001(c) of this title) shall be in the postal career service, which shall be a part of the *civil service*. Such appointments and promotions shall be in accordance with the procedures established by the Postal Service [emphasis added].***5 USC 2101. Civil service; armed forces; uniformed servicesFor the purpose of this title(1) the civil service consists of all appointive positions in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Government of the United States, except positions in the uniformed services;...

I am constantly amazed and impressed that I can send a letter for forty six cents and fully expect it to arrive at it's destination within a few days. I love the post office. And I love, Mike, my mailman, who called me when I was camping in Yellowstone, to tell me that, even though the Post Office wanted to stop holding my mail after a month, he would hang onto it anyway until I returned after Labor Day. And I love the ladies behind the counter at the Postal Station who help me wrap my parcels because I can't figure out how to do it.

I just wish there weren't so much junk mail. it seems like a tremendous waste of energy (and money) to have to deliver all that stuff only to have it thrown away, thereby making more work for the garbage men.

You guys are all romantics....Post office is going the way of the Pony Express fast thanks to e-mail fax, fed ex.

"Post office is going the way of the Pony Express fast thanks to e-mail fax, fed ex."Fedex is just the for-profit version of the postal service. If Congress would stop inhibiting the Post Office from competing with private business, it could certainly give Fed Ex a run for the money. And unlike DHL, we could probably count on the Post Office not to pull up stakes in the middle of the night and destroy a local economy.

David, I so appreciate your sentiments!My grandfather had a rural postal route most of his working life. He retired at 65, but missed it so much, he returned to work the following week and worked until his death seven years later.He routinely checked on elderly postal patrons whom he knew were sick (he found several who were very ill and called for help for them, and a few, sadly, he found dead and had to notify families). My mother and uncle sometimes rode the route with him (not completely kosher, but this was the 1930s), and they recall folks waiting at the mailbox to shoot the breeze or to ask for nursing help from my grandmother. My mother said that patrons would often leave little tokens in the the mailbox--half dozen fresh eggs, a cake, a loaf of bread, cookies. My uncle said that on Christmas Eve, one mailbox contained a shot of whiskey. "Jim always remembers me at Christmastime," Grampa said, downed the shot, and put the glass back in the box with the letters. He and several other postal carriers in northern Michigan rigged skis up on a Model A so that they could get down snowy roads. My mother has a photo of him with his "contraption." The local post office in the town where I grew up was decorated with a New Deal-era mural that covered an entire wall. There was a bench facing the wall where you could sit and look at it (or where people just sat and gabbed for awhile) I loved that thing, but as far as I know, it was destroyed when the post office was torn down and the city post offices consolidated into a newer building. There is an image of it that survives in the Smithsonian: http://www.flickr.com/photos/americanartmuseum/3342298904/lightbox/It's nice to be able to buy stamps at Kroger, but the P.O. was once a center of public life and reflected the the pride Americans took in their institutions. Those days seem long gone.

Short sighted death by blunt instruments. Which privately financed company will pick up the slack in service and low prices? Compared to other countries, our postal rates, given the enormous amount of rural town areas, are an incredible bargain.

Hey, very interesting feature on Scott Simon's NPR news program this morning about the P.O. It was, after 1865, a place where many African-Americans found stable work and were able to move into the middle class. Black Americans who worked at the post office were more likely to seek college degrees or to seek them for their children.

There is a Postal Service Smithsonian museum. We thought it was pretty interesting, and certainly the least-crowded Smithsonian institution we visited. We recommend it.At one time, and perhaps still now, the British Post Office included, not only traditional postal service, but more high-tech services as well. It's too bad the US Postal Service wasn't able to keep up with the times.

The U.S. USPS continues to be wracked by monetary problems, as the agency is regularly short on funds. The USPS fund payment, a $5.5 billion deposit, is going to be defaulted on and the agency is scheduled to run completely out of funds later this year. Source for this article: why wouldn't you check out https://personalmoneynetwork.com?

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.