Should We Privatize the Postal Service?

Jan 14th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The US Postal Service (USPS) is in trouble.  It has urged Congress to allow it to cancel Saturday deliveries, with discussion about the possibility of moving to three-days-a-week delivery of the mail.  In the last fiscal year, it lost $5.1 billion, with total losses exceeding $14 billion—an amount larger than the budgets of 35 states of the US!!!  Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution states that “The Congress shall have the power to . . . establish post offices and post roads.”  As the existence of Fed Ex and UPS indicate, it is possible for Congress to permit the postal service to be privatized.  However, as columnist George Will argues, “The belief is ‘In government, whatever is should forever be.’”  Changing anything in the postal service is almost impossible.  This is the political culture we now face in the United States.

How did the USPS get itself into such a situation?  There are at least three factors that explain the demise of the USPS:  (1)  The existence of email has had a profound effect on the USPS.  For example, today one can even send Christmas cards and other greeting cards via email.  There is also now the digital delivery of movies and the ability to send almost anything , anywhere via an electronic format.  (2)  The USPS is the nation’s second-largest civilian employer, with nearly 653,000 employees.  And, the USPS must shed about 1/3 of its workforce to remain viable.  The problem is that 80% of the USPS costs are labor costs (compared with 53% for UPS and 32% for Fed Ex).  Obviously, these labor costs make it very difficult for the USPS to be competitive.  (3)  Mail volume has declined about 20% over the last five years, and there is little doubt but that this decline will accelerate.

It would require an act of Congress, but does not wisdom dictate that the United States government should consider permitting a private company to take over the postal service?  Allow the free market to force the postal service to be competitive.  I know of no real proposal to seriously deal with all the challenges that the USPS faces.  But I do know that the USPS cannot continue doing the same thing and expect to survive.  The federal government cannot further subsidize the USPS because of its own debt burden.  So, is it not prudent for a private company, answerable to its stockholders, to take over the delivery of our mail?  Someone once defined insanity as continuing to do the same thing but expecting different results.  That seems to be the dilemma of the USPS.

See George Will in the Washington Post (28 November 2011).PRINT PDF

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2 Comments to “Should We Privatize the Postal Service?”

  1. randall albin says:

    might check out a few facts … reinstatement of box rent would help, congress will not allow … funding of old retirement, only required by congress – unfair advantage to ups & fed-ex, fed-ex drops tons of packages in rural post offices & saves tons of $ at post office expense { gov’t oversight is huge issue }, post office not allowed to own it’s planes, must buy space on competitor’s , another case of gov’t oversight …. there are so many regulations forced on post office by congress! can you think of one industry that could survive by funding itself, with complete government oversight & regulations – congress controlling rates & all daily business decisions … Required to deliver to every address, every day { 6 day deliver } ups nor fed-ex are required? level the playing field might be a wise start

  2. Sharon says:

    Management and Congress is the problem! Just one example of waste: The the past couple years the post office came out with the Forever stamp. A great idea! But today I found out that even though these stamps are good forever the post office recalls them before they are sold out. So they pay to have them printed and then when they recall them they have to pay someone to shred them. Why not just let them sell out? No wonder the postal service is going broke.