I confess I'm not a neutral party here: I do, actually, use postal mail (or snail mail) from time to time, and I rather like having it available. Anyway, today brings another chapter in Walter Russell Mead's fixation on the Post Office.
The Postal Service’s problems are legion. Staffing costs are far too high, and the agency is unlikely to remain solvent without significant cutbacks and massive office closures. Meanwhile, the USPS has suffered a steady decline in both mail volume and revenue. Email has largely replaced paper mail as the primary means of long distance correspondence, as efficient and cheap private parcel delivery services such as UPS, FedEx, and DHL have largely cut them out of the market.
Yet while these problems are serious, they should not have been surprising. Technological change like this happens all the time. Western Union telegraphs and mail-order catalogs were replaced by the telephone and the internet. Nature leads its course, as the old makes way for the new—a system set up for the America of 1950 has little relevance to the needs of modern America.
The US Postal Service is an yet another outdated remnant of the 20th century blue social model that needs to go the way of the steamboat ...
On the other hand, this article at IEEE Spectrum argues that email isn't killing the post office.
Yes, this independent agency of the federal government has reported losses—billion-dollar losses—in recent years. But technology is not the cause.
Rather, in 2006, then president George W. Bush signed into law the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act [PDF], which mandated that the USPS set aside 75 years of health-care costs for its retired employees over the ensuing 10 years.
“No other corporation or government agency that I know of has to prefund their retirees’ health benefits [like this],” says Philip Rubio, assistant professor in the Department of History at North Carolina A&T State University, in Greensboro. “We’re talking about postal workers who haven’t even been born yet.”
Critics of the 2006 legislation say it’s a poison pill, forced on an agency that has accommodated itself to change many times over—from railroads and telegraphs to airmail, AOL, and Amazon.com. ...
Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic agrees:
The Postal Service as we know it today was created in 1970. The Postal Service Reorganization Act was intended to transform the mail system from a dysfunctional dumping ground for political patronage into a self-sustaining, independent agency. It was told, in other words, to act like a business.
But the politicians never really let it. The Postal Service doesn't receive any taxpayer dollars, funding itself entirely through customer revenue. But it still has to deal with Congress as a micromanager. It isn't allowed to shutter post offices for purely economic reasons, meaning that roughly 25,000 of its 32,000 now operate at a loss. It needs permission for rate hikes from a special regulatory commission. And for 30 years, it's been required to deliver mail on Saturdays, even though that day is a money loser.
The Postal Service's current woes are also due at least in part to Capitol Hill's meddling. In 2006, Congress passed a new law requiring the agency to pay about $5.5 billion a year into a trust fund for future retiree pensions. ...
Go to the links for the rest, including graphics. I don't know who's right, but I'd like to see the USPS remain in business - and solvent - even if it means cutting services and raising rates. If the 2006 is part of the problem, though, maybe that's what we need to fix first.