Monday, January 21, 2008

Mail Chauvinist

Last week I asked you to send me suggestions on how we could shrink the size of the government. My father responded and sent me a lengthy list. One of the areas he believes we could rid ourselves caught my eye because I had not thought about it in a while. Privatizing the Post Office.

I occasionally go to the Post Office, but it always seems like a hassle. The line is always long, and it takes forever, so I typically avoid going unless I have an unusually sized letter or box. At work, nobody uses the post office. We send everything via FedEx.

Increasingly, the Post Office is becoming more and more unnecessary. Do we write letters or do we send e-mails? We can pay our bills on-line. Fed-Ex and UPS deliver millions of packages. In my mailbox, it’s 90% junk that I don’t really want anyway.

It strikes me as odd that a government run organization would run directly in competition with private companies. FedEx, UPS, and DHL all have airmail and fast delivery as well as the Post Office. Why do we need a government organization competing with private companies?

It is true that the Post Office is required not to lose money on an on-going basis, but this hides some important facts. According to the National Review Online:

Few Americans realize that the USPS already has accumulated over $70 billion in unfunded liabilities — mostly money promised to employees in retirement and health benefits. The USPS doesn't have that money. Nobody knows how on earth it's going to meet these liabilities.”

If FedEx owed $70 billion to its employees, do you think the government would bail them out? Not likely. Private companies are required by law to deposit money into an account to maintain a high probability of paying off their pension plan obligations. The government is not required to do the same thing as private companies. I wonder who is going to have to pay this huge debt.

Some might wonder what we would do without a postal service. There are already dozens of shipping companies, local and global, that carry letters and packages. If there are profits to be made, you had better believe that they would be there to ship your letters. If you fear a rise in stamp prices (or mailing prices) because the government can perform this task cheaper than a private company can, please move the magic markers away from your nose.

Some might also wonder what other countries are doing. Well, by 2009 we will be one of the last countries in the industrialized world to have government run mail service. According to the same article, “The European Union aims to privatize all its national postal services by 2009.” According to Forbes, Italy will do it by 2008. Japan has already privatized their postal service in 2005.

Aren’t we always supposed to be like Europe?

As always, tell me what you think.

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