One Reason Not to Support the Post Office: It Is a Forced Monopoly

We can’t know how good mail service can be until others are allowed to try.

In the wake of the United States Postal Service’s announcement that it would suspend Saturday service later this year, I caught a flurry of facebook support for that time-honored institution. Here are two examples. The first comes courtesy of Labor 411 and Save the Post Office:

Awww. I'm getting weepy over here!

Awww. I’m getting weepy over here!

If you know anything about facebook, then you know that the arrow points to a little avatar image of the person who posted the message. How cute. Here is the other example, courtesy of GOP – The Party of Mean.

Is that right?

Is that right?

Now, if you Google up the phrase “Post Office Debt”, you are going to get tons of hits from a variety of sources. I haven’t personally looked at the books, but think the consensus is that the Post Office is, in fact, in debt. But ‘GOP – The Party of Mean’ included an explanation along with the picture. Here it is:

The US Post Office is NOT in trouble but that is not what the GOP wants you to believe. The GOP wants you to think the federal postal service needs to cut services, cut hours, lay off workers … And why? It’s the GOP grand plan: PRIVATIZATION.

The only problem the US Postal Service has is a manufactured problem brought to them in 2006 by GOP-controlled Congress when they passed the ‘Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act’. This bill requires the U.S. Mail service to pre-fund its retirement health care benefit account 75 years ahead of time. No other Federal Agency is required to do this. The Postal Service is mandated to pre-funding retirement benefits for employees it hasn’t even hired yet. And this Act also restricts the USPS from increasing its rates. This is an unrealistic requirement and unbearable burden … and why? Ultimately it will lead to privatization of another government function. It’s the same thing the GOP wants to do to schools, prisons, and our military. Every thing has a $ sign attached to for the GOP – The Party of Mean.

In essence, the Post Office is in debt only because the alleged ‘Party of Mean’ mandated that the Post Office pre-pay its employees ridiculous retirement benefits. The ‘Party of Mean’s ulterior motive, allegedly, was to drive the Post Office out of business where straightforward politics has failed to do so. But for this mandate, I presume the argument goes, the Post Office would be a profitable, self-sustaining business. Fair enough. I won’t even challenge this argument. In fact, I think libertarians play up the alleged inefficiencies of the Post Office way too much. Here is one of my favorite commentators, Judge Andrew Napolitano, on the subject. Listen to the first minute:

What do you suppose the Judge means when he says, “the government can’t deliver the mail”? I, for one, got my mail this morning. I received an invitation to a university reunion that I don’t plan to attend, and some unmarked letter, ostensibly from my credit card company, that I have yet to open. I recently ordered several computer parts. They came as quickly as could be reasonably expected. I personally can’t recall anything I’ve ever sent as having been lost in the mail. As far as I can tell, the Post Office is an effective business. Even so, I can not support it. If you continue listening to the judge, he’ll tell you why.

In the 1840s, the Post Office charged about 14.5¢ to mail an average one-ounce letter from New York to Boston. That would be about $4.25 in today’s dollars, according to’s inflation calculator. A private citizen named Lysander Spooner therefore endeavored to compete with the Post Office. He set up his own American Letter Mail Company, and in the ensuing competition, the government was forced to lower its price to 3¢ before it arrested Spooner and outlawed his business. Three cents would have amounted to about 9¢ in today’s money. To this day, it remains illegal for private business to compete with the Post Office without its express permission. ‘GOP – The Party of Mean’ seems to have forgotten a significant bullet point:

    • Anyone who dares to carry on a mail delivery service that competes with the Post Office faces either a $500 fine, six months in prison, or both. 18 USC § 1696(a).

That is why I can not support the Post Office. I will not support any business that violently suppresses competition, no matter how self-sustaining it is, no matter how many veterans it employs, and no matter how constitutional it is.

A stamp from the American Letter Mail Company.

A stamp from the American Letter Mail Company.

So what’s with all this caterwauling on the part of ‘GOP – The Party of Mean’ about PRIVATIZATION? All PRIVATIZATION means is that ordinary citizens will no longer be fined and imprisoned for doing a job that was formerly the exclusive province of government. If you are well off enough to be reading these words on a computer or smartphone screen, as a great and ever increasing number of people are nowadays, then look up for a moment and gaze upon of the material comfort that surround you. How much of it was the work of private people forming companies, doing work, and trading? I would venture to say most of it. Absent extraordinary circumstances and government intervention, prices tend to fall in the private market. The last time private parties entered the postal services market, prices fell by 80%. So what’s the beef?

The only clue ‘GOP – The Party of Mean’ gives is in the last line of its lament: “Every thing has a $ sign attached to for the GOP – The Party of Mean.” Is that all? ‘GOP – The Party of Mean’ hates private profit so much that it would rather see private competitors fined and imprisoned than see them make money by offering a superior product? Why? That’s just … mean.

No, I can not support the United States Postal Service so long as it forcibly insulates itself from competition. I support private enterprise. I support Lysander Spooner and the American Letter Mail Company.

Share if you support private industry.

Share if you support private industry.

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