The Postal Service On The Precipice, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 24 2011 @ 8:17pm

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

I can’t believe some of the abuse that is thrown at the USPS. When you look at their average annual compensation ($64k/year), they are clearly not overpaid. And when you compare the price they charge for the service they provide, it is the best in the world. In the world. About the cheapest rate you can find for mailing a letter in other countries is 98 cents, while most other industrialized countries are in the $1.20 range. Most countries don’t offer Saturday delivery like the USPS does. And the USPS delivery times average more than 20% quicker than other countries.

The reason the USPS is having trouble is because Congress won’t let them succeed. They insist on providing certain service levels (like Saturday delivery) and yet they won’t let the USPS charge what they need to charge to provide the service.

Another cites a reader in the previous post:

I think "[we] would be far better off if the USPS were shut down tomorrow" is an absurd statement. The USPS employs around 574,000 people. UPS and FedEX combined employ around 541,000 people, and they are international companies, so only a portion of those people are the US.

They also aren't designed at the moment to deliver mail and pick up mail from almost every single household in America on a daily basis, as well as from various offices and boxes currently spread around the city and far flung communities. Our local UPS guy doesn't even pause between throwing my package on the porch and jumping back in his van to see if I'm here. I'd hate to see what his life would be like if he also had to stop at every single house around my neighborhood on top of his current work load.

Saying "FedEX and UPS clearly have the infrastructure in place to carry mail as well" is technically true, but they clearly don't have the infrastructure  to deal with volume and magnitude of work that they'd have to take over if the Post Office closes its doors, unless we sell the whole venture to them. You could argue whether that'd be worthwhile, but the USPS is doing a lot more than nothing at the moment.

Another piles on:

Your reader wrote: "FedEX and UPS clearly have the infrastructure in place to carry mail as well and would do it far more efficiently than the US Government." Except they don't. There are many rural areas that FedEx and UPS do not reach. In fact, they contract with USPS to deliver packages to those areas.

Then there are the other disadvantages. If a package or letter that needs to be signed for cannot be delivered to my home because I am not in, I can retrieve that package at my local post office, usually no more than 30 minutes away. I know where my local post office is. If the same thing occurs with a FedEx or UPS package, I have to ask for them to attempt delivery again. Of course, that means I have to be home when they arrive … and they won't give me a delivery window. Alternatively, I can go to their delivery hub – usually at the local airport, which is far from my home.


There is absolutely no chance that UPS or Fedex could service the millions of miles of RFD (Rural Free Delivery) routes in this country at anything close to post office rates. These people would just drop off the map, and be isolated from mail service altogether. They would indeed be abandoned by civilization. Recall that RFD in a very real sense MADE this country; not just the back-and-forth of ordinary correspondence, business and personal, but the ritual of ordering from Sears. A very large number of the HOUSES in rural areas arrived by US Mail.

Mail delivery is a basic service of government. Thoughtless free marketers don't know what they're talking about.


There may be good reasons to keep post offices open in rural or low population areas, but keeping them because they are "lifelines" is not one of them. Post offices that serve a small population, like anything else,  must be subsidized by the income generated from larger population areas.  I have no problem with this model – it has served our country well since its founding.  However, we are now told by many people that we can no longer afford to carry the people the who don't pull their own weight, and that surely applies to rural people.  If offices are closed throughout Alaska and the hinterlands, the people have a choice to either do without or move to a place where there is a post office.  Don't like those options?  Welcome to the real world, where the rest of us have to move to get a job, receive good health care, or enjoy abundant water supplies.

It's this cognitive dissonance that Americans believe that they should be able to live where ever they choose, and that everyone else has to subsidize their choice with new roads, infrastructure, post offices, cheap utilities, affordable housing, free quality schools, and everything else.  But they don't believe in "handouts" or raising taxes to pay for the things they refuse to pay for themselves.  It isn't even a matter of socialism – it's a matter of doing the best for all concerned, and they are the beneficiaries.  But they can't understand the concept that if they benefit, so should others, and everyone needs to pay something towards it.   Are people really that ill-informed?