Does it Really Always Get Through?

Does it Really Always Get Through?

By Patrick F. Cannon

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin became our hopeful republic’s first Postmaster General. He was a logical choice, since he had held essentially the same job for the former colonies. In those days, most mail within the colonies and the young country moved by horsepower – either by horseback or coaches. As I recall, you could count on a letter from Boston to New York taking just a few days. Transatlantic mail – there was much between America and England – was subject to the vagaries of wind and weather. Air mail was unknown, since it hadn’t yet occurred to anyone to train pigeons.

Until 1950, American homes got two deliveries a day; businesses as many as four. Now, if we’re lucky, we get one, and Saturday deliveries may soon go away. Many of you will recall going days without getting mail during the last winter. In 1999, the Postal Service had 787,538 employees; in 2020, 495,941. Mr. Louis De Joy, the current Postmaster General and CEO, is not a fan of overtime, so is unconcerned if the mail sits around for an extra day or two. And I don’t imagine he spends much time in line at his local Post Office, waiting to be served by the single clerk on duty. He did rouse himself when it became clear that he would be blamed if mail-in ballots didn’t arrive in time for last November’s election.

The Postmaster General was once appointed by the president, and the Postal Service was a government department, just like the State and Defense departments. This changed in 1971, when it became a quasi-government “business,” expected to be run as such and even turn a profit. Vain hope. More often than not, it loses money. Its package business now has stiff competition from the likes of UPS and Fed-Ex, whose stockholders expect them to turn a profit, which  they do. With the possible exception of Christmas and other holiday cards, few people use the mails to correspond with relatives and friends. Like most other folks, I use e-mail and the occasional text to keep in touch.  The Postal Services only response to this is to raise the cost of First Class Mail, which might just further discourage its use.

I think it was a mistake to “privatize” the mail. It should be a service government provides to its citizens. Is the Department of Agriculture expected to make a profit? The Defense Department? The Department of State? While we might think we spend too much money on them, we don’t suggest they be run as businesses. Why the Post Office?

After World War II, many governments – notably the British Labor party – decided to nationalize important industries (steel, rail, coal, power, etc.). The total failure of this trend caused later governments to reverse it, as the government-run industries not only lost money, but market share and reputation. This trend toward privatization no doubt caught the Postal Service in its tide.

Most Americans frankly don’t care what happens. But as someone who still pays a few bills by mail, I do. A case in point: a couple of months ago, I sent a mortgage payment about two weeks before it was due, and three weeks before a late fee could be charged. The check arrived a day after the late fee became effective. So, it took three weeks and a day for a First-Class letter to travel from Chicago to Iowa, which you may know is right next to Illinois.

And just a couple of weeks ago, my wife got a card that was postmarked more than a month before we received it. And finally, let me mention that law-abiding citizens who live in high-crime areas in many cities are forced to go the post office to pick up their mail because letter carriers refuse to deliver it. Would any of this happen if the Postmaster General had to report directly to the president instead of some commission? Hell, the taxpayers are on the hook for deficits anyway!

Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon

3 thoughts on “Does it Really Always Get Through?

  1. Once again, you so eloquently hit the nail on the head, Pat!

    It’s so bad, I no longer pay ANY bills by mail. A Halloween card I once sent in mid-October from Texas to Indiana did not arrive until Thanksgiving.

    I signed up for the USPS Informed Delivery service, a website that shows you digital images of envelopes scheduled to be delivered that day. One was from the IRS, and it NEVER arrived. Given its timing, I think it was probably the preening, self-adulating letter from Trump proclaiming that he had ever so generously and personally given me a COVID stimulus payment via direct deposit, so I don’t mind not getting that one. But still, if it’s supposed to arrive, it should arrive. The site has a feature that lets you click next to an image to say that it never arrived. And what do you suppose happens if you click it? Right – NOTHING!!

    In Austin, most homes don’t have their own individual mailboxes attached to their houses. Instead, their boxes are in a large bank of boxes on a nearby street. I can’t decipher what convoluted system the carriers use to match mail to a box. It’s clearly nothing as simple as matching a house address on an envelope to that same house address on the box. Rather, it’s some kind of complicated encoded system that many carriers just don’t grasp. Neighbors are constantly getting each others’ mail.

    I once tried calling my local post office. No matter what time of day I called or how many times I tried calling, the phone just rang and rang and no one EVER answered.

    So yeah, we keep paying more for less. I’m surprised the whole system hasn’t long since imploded. And I agree with your proposed solution!

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  2. We seem to get our mail in good order here in Mayberry. The carrier drives up, waves hello if I’m outside, and drops the junk paper into the box. The employees at the local post office are friendly and helpful enough. But any massive, centralized federal government bureaucracy like this is bound to break down at the local level. Imagine if Washington, instead of the states, had been in charge of getting people vaccinated. We’d be like Italy!

    The real problem with unelected federal bureaucrats is they can become politicized. Kim Strassel at the WSJ provides insight into this problem. You can read it here

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-partisan-bureaucracy-11623362896?st=8mqwgu6c8riicew&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink

    What once may have been a system of dutiful. non-partisan civil service has changed into an entrenched political tool that doesn’t answer to the elected officials overseeing it. The post office has been set up to be quasi self-supporting, like a business. But if it operated just like other federal agencies funded by a seemingly endless stream of tax appropriations, it could easily act on behalf of partisan interests. It would be natural for unionized, government employees to act in ways that benefit their livelihoods. Think for a moment how this could impact — and may indeed have impacted — voting. There’s a reason the Democrats are so keen about mail-in ballots.

    It was probably presented as a joke at the time, but postal worker Newman may have hit the nail on the head:

    (There’s another funny Seinfeld episode where Kramer tries to refuse mail delivery and gets interrogated by the Postmaster General).

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  3. We seem to get our mail in good order here in Mayberry.

    The carrier drives up, waves hello if I’m outside, and drops the junk paper into the box. The employees at the local post office are friendly and helpful enough. But any massive, centralized federal government bureaucracy like this is bound to break down at the local level. Imagine if Washington, instead of the states, had been in charge of getting people vaccinated. We’d be like Italy!

    The post office may not do a first class job in getting mail delivered, but the real problem with unelected federal bureaucrats is they can become politicized. Kim Strassel at the WSJ wrote an insightful piece on this problem yesterday, specifically the recent IRS leaks of billionaires’ tax returns, timed just right for Biden’s tax increase announcements. We’ve seen similar leaks from the Justice Department and FBI.

    What once may have been a system of dutiful. non-partisan civil service has changed into an entrenched political tool that doesn’t answer to the elected officials overseeing it. The post office has been set up to be quasi self-supporting, like a business. But if it operated just like other federal agencies funded by a seemingly endless stream of tax appropriations, it could easily act on behalf of partisan interests. It would be natural for unionized, government postal employees to act in ways that benefit their livelihoods.

    Think for a moment how this could impact — and may indeed have impacted — voting. There’s a reason the Democrats are so keen about mail-in ballots.

    It was probably presented as a joke at the time, but postal worker Newman in the Seinfeld episode may have inadvertently hit the nail on the head when he said: “When you control the mail, you control…information!”

    (There’s another funny Seinfeld episode where Kramer tries to refuse mail delivery, then gets interrogated by the Postmaster General).

    Like

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