Monday, September 5, 2011

Post Office Constituency

More negative news on the supposedly horrendous costs of the Post Office are ahead. How do I know? The newspaper of record makes my Labor Day by telling me that as a little encore to shutting down the whole government, Congress may give us shutting down the Post Office this winter. Why? Later this month the agency must make a payment of $5.5 million and hasn’t got the money. On top of that, the $5.5 million is needed to finance the future health care of its retirees. Doesn’t that almost guarantee Congressional refusals to help. Such vast amounts of money? For people? Worse yet, for health care? Even worse for the uselessly retired? A pledge never to vote Yes for the Post Office will soon be circulating.

Yet I think I’m absolutely right to think that the Post Office has a huge and supportive constituency. Oddly enough it is the very same people who go to the Post Office, wait in lines, look at each other and roll their eyes because the lines are so slow. And the people who change when it is finally their time at the counter. I am one of them. When I have to mail something registered, or mail a gift, or send money by that route—that’s one of my least favorite chores. Nevertheless, I don’t want any politician messing with the Post Office. Indeed, Brigitte and I have already signed a private pledge never to vote for any politician who votes against the Post Office. Do we ever get anything in the mail that we want? Most days we don’t. But some days we do: magazines we value, car registrations, insurance certificates to use with the car, Christmas cards, packages from friends, purchases from—enough so that we want it. We know our postal carrier by name. We wave to her when we see her across the street. We smile. She smiles.

This constituency also knows perfectly well that the Post Office costs the nation just a few billions a year, still in single digits. In 2010 the loss from operations was $8.4 billion. Most of the agency’s total expenses ($75.4 billion) were met by its revenues ($67.1 billion). According to a March 29, 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service (link), expenditures on Afghanistan are running $6.7 billion per month, expenditures on Iraq $6.2 billion per month. And don’t let me get into the bailouts of the Too Big to Fails.

One of these days we, the people, will get our way. If we don’t, believe you me, I am ready to sign up for a tour of service, even at my age, with the Michigan Militia. But let me end on a less “immature” note. There is that motto on the James Farley Post Office in New York City, derived from a statement in Herodotus’ Histories celebrating one of mankind’s earliest postal services, the Persian:


Nor, one might add, beady-eyed tax cutters in Congress—if we can help it.


  1. Yea for Buggywhips!

    Ok, so the Post office is more useful than buggywhips, but the analogy holds: E-mail is replacing snail mail, the question is can the Post Office adapt to the changing requirements?

    Quite frankly, they can't adapt. They put themselves in this position with unsustainable benefits and contracts with the Union that prohibit layoffs to match labor to demand.


    And now they are going to Congress to get a law to let them raid the benefit piggy bank and break the Unions to lay off workers.

    Sure, put the onus on Congress, after you screwed up.

    Do we lose something if we lose the Post Office? I think so, but if the Post Office cannot make itself relevant, what have we lost?

    Interestingly, if the PO was not semi-privatized and was a full government entity, it would not have Unions. So Congress could federalize the PO, break the Union contract, save the Post Office and make it liquid in one fell swoop.
    Problem solved!

  2. I suppose Congress's Constitutional power to establish post offices and post roads in some sense includes the power to make them unusable, but that really does seem to go against the spirit of the law.