Wednesday, March 03, 2010

No More Post Office?

The U.S. Postal Service may be going out of business, but in the meantime, it'll make certain that it raises prices, curtails service and finds a way to make sure that millions of Federal Employees get to keep their cushy pensions.

Nothing like going out with a bang, is there?

I think the logic for keeping a Postal Service around diminishes by the day. People already communicate much more efficiently with e-mail, cell phones, text messaging and all that rot, so that the Letter Carrier has been reduced to a service which brings me three utility bills and fifty pounds of junk mail every month. The advance of technology is making it unnecessary for people to send paper to each other. For certain things, like legal documents which you might send by registered mail, then a Post Office of some sort makes sense, but for everything else? I mean, is it really necessary to send a post card in this day and age when you can flip open your cell phone, take a snapshot of you on the beach at Montego Bay, and then send it off with whatever personal message you desire in less than a minute? Without having to buy a stamp? Without the danger that you will arrive back in the United States before your postcard reaches it's destination?

Frankly, the reason why all of your correspondence isn't online is because of the (justifiable) fear of hacking which will leave your personal information, your financial statements, your utility bills and personal letters, open to anyone who makes the effort to get at them. That's a problem that will, eventually, be solved by the application of encryption software that might soon be commercially available. In the meantime, we're in this in-between phase where the written word -- on paper and locked within an envelope -- is still a necessary evil, and so an anachronistic entity like the Postal Service must continue to exist.

I won't even get into the stink Tree-Huggers should be raising about the fact that when I get my electric bill, it's two pages of rundown of how I'm being taxed to death a nickel and a dime at a time, but it's also another 12 pages of printed advertisements. My mailman has to drive thousands of those around his area of delivery, and then lug them all door-to-door. This is one of those situations where an environMENTAList outcry might actually be useful -- the practice is wasteful, and by itself is reason enough to shoot the Post Office like a lame horse.

That analogy is apt: the Post Office is certainly on it's last legs, and the reasons why it isn't disappearing faster are, mostly, political (naturally!). In the meantime, like every other government service, the Post Office costs more to operate that it generates, and so it has it's hand out in perpetuity and will apply the usual government-inspired "solution"; higher prices, fewer services, no reduction in overhead.

Yeah, like that ever works?

Now, don't get me wrong -- at current prices, the Post Office is still a good deal, if you think about it this way; you can send any message you want to, to anyone you want to, and you can be pretty much guaranteed that it will reach it's destination in something like five to ten days for 44 cents. Try getting any service that has that sort of reliability for under half-a-buck anywhere, and you'd be hard-pressed to find one.

But you really have to start to think about WHY you might send a message that way nowadays when technology makes doing so much easier, cheaper, and instantaneous. And this is where the Post Office falls short.

It might also be failing faster because of political stupidity in Washington, I quote:

"...The postmaster general called for many of these changes last year but failed to convince lawmakers. This time he's armed with $4.8 million worth of outside studies that conclude that, without drastic changes, the mail agency will face even more staggering losses.

Three studies -- by Accenture, the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey and Co. -- reviewed the Postal Service's books and presented 50 options for cuts and new services. The agency's business model is so poor, consultants concluded, that privatizing it is untenable..."

Two things leap out from the quote:

1. Why is it that an agency which is leaking money like a sieve must go out and spend $4.8 million dollars on outside studies to tell it what it already knows? One gets the impression that the expenditure was necessary because the politicians didn't believe in any report that wasn't generated by a private sector auditor (yet, dems swear by the CBO when it suits their purposes on Health Care and Stimulus bills), and because the auditor was probably a campaign contributor who was granted the contract to do the study in return for that contribution.

2. Even the Private Sector, with supposedly the best and brightest business minds available, wouldn't touch the Postal Service with a 10-foot pole...and we're talking about a business which has a monopoly on first-class mail delivery in the United States. The evident reasons: it's a service which is rapidly being superseded by technology, and it's run by powerful unions with too much political clout to bring to heel.

But this really made me sit up and take notice:

"...He (Potter) particularly wants Congress to reverse a 2006 law requiring the Postal Service to prepay its retiree health benefits, to the tune of $5 billion per year. No other federal agency or Fortune 500 company makes such payments, Potter said..."

Five billion in the hole before you even open the doors for business? No wonder they can't make any money! That must be some healthcare plan, indeed. It makes you wonder if the average Postal Worker isn't getting his insides gold-plated as long as he's getting a colonoscopy, anyway. That situation, incidentally, won't be changed in any way by ObamaCare; the Postal Workers are sure to be spared the taxes that come with that, and the ability to keep whatever arrangements they already have since they've been "pre-paid" and you wouldn't want to waste that taxpayer money, would you?

It's about time, maybe, to consign the Post Office to the Dungheap of History, along with the Pony Express, the Telegraph and the rotary, analog telephone.

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