The Postal Service On The Precipice

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 20 2011 @ 8:09am


The USPS is quickly approaching insolvency and is planning to shed more than one-third of its workforce by 2015. Annie Lowrey discusses a wide range of policy options: 

The most radical option is simply to end the USPS, as suggested by former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty and the Cato Instituteamong others. This is unnecessary and unlikely. But it is not nearly as crazy as it sounds. The shift to online communication is permanent, and letter volumes will continue to decline. It is hard to see how the USPS will ever make money given its legal strictures, even with its monopoly on letter delivery. Congress could break the monopoly and privatize USPS, opening the field up to the host of companies that already deliver packages and letters, cheaply and fast.

As another possible solution, Brad Plumer appraises the Postal Service's real estate assets. Noting that the federal government needs to decide if the USPS is a "business or welfare/charity organization," Maurice McTigue adds

The current system is poorly configured with archaic facilities in the wrong places. Post offices should be where people go, like grocery stores and malls, so people don’t have to make a special trip. In order to compete with UPS and FedEx, the postal service needs to meet their standard of quality. It needs to develop a strategic goal of delivering all the mail in every significant community in the United States within 24 hrs. 

Yglesias bemoans the horrible timing of the inevitable mass layoffs. Along similar lines, Edward Tenner addresses the problem of "creative destruction" and asks us to consider the historic and socioeconomic implications of a foundering USPS: 

Nationally, the Postal Service reflects the diversity of Americans. But for generations of rural residents, immigrants, and especially African Americans it was a key to a stable middle-class family life, especially during the Great Depression and the flight of industry from cities starting in the 1960s. …

When we consider deficits of the organization, we also have to consider the costs of massive layoffs to communities, and the cost of eliminating decent jobs for young people of all backgrounds. Understandably, there are other hard-working people earning less than postal workers who may object to paying taxes to support the remaining stability and camaraderie of others. On the other hand, they (as well as the better-off) may have to pay higher taxes anyway for welfare and Medicaid after the ensuing job destruction. 

(Photo: US Postal Service letter carrier Anthony Ow places letters in a mailbox as he walks his delivery route July 30, 2009 in San Francisco, California. By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)