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Predictably, Watkins's cleverness earned him the wrath of the American Postal Workers Union. Soon after Mail America began operating five years ago, the union brought a suit against it, claiming the company violated federal laws that give the Postal Service a monopoly on nonexpress letter delivery. "This is the first company we've found going after the household market, and we were afraid of the precedent," union lawyer Anton G. Hajjar admitted to the Washington Post. "When these minimumwage operations come in and start sorting mail, that leaves less work for our employees."
But Mail America has gone right on doing its thing. Although a district court ruled against Watkins in 1984, a circuit court of appeals reversed the ruling last summer and declared his business legal. Mail America now processes about 6,000 pieces of mail a day. With the lawsuit behind him, Watkins expects finally to break into the black and then to expand his operations to Denver, Phoenix, and eventually every city in the country.
While Mail America reduces the costs of using the Postal Service, the Pak-Wrap Mail Center, in Arabi, Louisiana, extends its services. Pak-Wrap, like the Postal Service, mails packages. But it does more: it wraps them. And like most of the 3,000 commercial mailing services operating today, Pak-Wrap also offers mail boxes for rent, provides a call-in service for checking for mail by phone, and sends and receives packages through the Postal Service and private carriers.
The business of improving upon the Postal Service can be lucrative. Consolidated Services Corp., a commercial mailing service based in Las Vegas, Nevada, grossed $3 million in its first nine months of operation and is now establishing up to a dozen new locations in Utah.
It's true that private enterprises are still prohibited from offering the most basic service of all: delivering mail. Still, the existence of so many companies in the business of making postal service cheaper, more convenient, and just plain better must make the mail monopolists pretty uncomfortable.
Taxpayers Rate with Washington's Newest Raters
Each year dozens of special interest groups, from the American Association of University Women to Zero Population Growth, rate members of Congress on how well they hew to some ideological line. Indeed, the handy compendium How They Rate, which compiles such measures, checked in at a bulky 1,013 pages last year.
So when an organization announces that it's joining the ratings game, we usually try to stifle our yawns. But the latest kid on the grading block-the Washington, D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute-is different. The CEI is scoring members of Congress on how well their votes reflect support for a free market.
The CEl's first index (it promises to be annual) assigned ratings to members of the 99th Congress on the basis of 57 Senate votes and 55 House votes. Votes for free trade, deregulation, privatization, elimination of subsidies, lower tax rates, and less federal intervention in the economy constituted the CEI's criteria.
Going to the head of the class, perhaps not surprisingly, were a pair of former economics professors: Sen. Phil Gramm (RTex.) at 96 percent and Rep. Richard Armey (R-Tex.) with 98 percent. Other notable House scores: Ed Zschau (R-Calif.)-96 percent, Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.)-73 percent, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)-74 percent, and, on the other end, Jim Wright (D-Tex.)-13 percent, and Les Aspin (D-Wis.) -18 percent.
Senate heavyweights and how they rate: Jesse Helms (D-N.C.)-91 percent, Bob Dole (RKans.)-81 percent, William Proxmire (D-Wis.)-54 percent, and old reliable Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)-34 percent. The average grade in the Senate, 50 percent, was slightly higher than the House's average 42 percent.
It is important to note that the CEI did not include votes on defense and foreign-policy-related spending, which accounts for about one-third of the federal budget. Nor did it include noneconomic issues on which members of Congress have an opportunity to display their commitment or lack thereof to individual freedom.
Still, how refreshing to see economic common sense being rewarded and to know that taxpayers at least rate with someone in Washington.
Take Two Aspirin and Call Us When the Regulation Fails
It seemed like such a simple, no-fail solution to the problem of child poisonings: require aspirin makers to put safety caps on their bottles. Children wouldn't be able to open the bottles, poisonings would decrease, and everyone would be happier. What could go wrong?