Will Your Local Post Office Still Exist Next Year? Will You Even Notice?

Lysander Spooner's ghost sharpens a spectral axeCredit: JohnathanLobel / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SAThe United States Postal Service had a terrible first quarter, losing nearly $2 billion in the first three months of the year. It continues to struggle to survive in a society that increasingly uses it less and against a backlash-wary Congress reluctant to allow it to reduce services. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The Postal Service is a government corporation, which means it is organized like a business yet subject to congressional oversight. Consequently, reform is difficult, said Mike Schuyler, a fellow at the Washington-based Tax Foundation who has studied postal issues for nearly two decades.

"The Postal Service has far too little flexibility when it needs to adjust, and it's really in handcuffs because of all the requirements Congress puts on it," Schuyler said.

Postal officials recently tried to end Saturday letter delivery, which could have saved $2 billion per year, but Congress blocked it. A legislative proposal to replace doorstep delivery with curbside delivery, which would save $4.5 billion, failed last year. A plan to close thousands of rural post offices was abandoned after postal officials deemed the closures would "upset Congress a great deal," Barnett said.

It’s unfortunate news that Congress refuses to let the post office operate like an actual business, even though that’s what it’s supposed to do. What should concern consumers (and taxpayers) though, is that every story about the postal service’s troubles inevitably turn to its system of pre-funding the health care costs for its future retirees. Despite the huge crisis playing out in cities and states across the country because of underfunded retirement and health programs for public employees, this effort at fiscal planning is seen as some sort of outrage:

The pre-funding payments and other measures in the 2006 law have led some, including political activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, to call the Postal Service's situation a "manufactured crisis." Only one other federal agency, the Defense Department, pre-funds future retiree health benefits, the Government Accountability Office said. …

The Postal Service and postal workers unions agreed to the 2006 legislation because at the time it looked as if the service could afford it, said congressional and union staffers who worked on the legislation. The recession changed that, affecting banks that typically send lots of mail and homeowners who receive it, said Jim Sauber, chief of staff of the National Assn. of Letter Carriers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter A. Defazio (D-Ore.) are sponsoring bills to eliminate the pre-funding requirement and allow the Postal Service to raise rates more freely, among other changes. Unions support the bill, and it has some supporters in the Senate and the House.

And when the funds come up short after the fact, as is happening all over the country, who is on the hook then?

FUN UPDATE: Man's teenage son has no idea how to mail letters.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I would notice if my local post office went away. Due to various situations and whatnots I have a post office box rather than getting my mail delivered to my home. Therefore because it will affect me personally I support the United States Postal Service beyond the fullest extent of reason.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I'd notice because my 'mail' would stop getting lost or delivered to the wrong address.

    Fuck the post office.

  • robc||

    I would notice also. I would be fine with ending delivery altogether, everyone gets a PO Box instead.

    We might need MORE local post offices, but it would still be cheaper than delivery.

    I would happily deliver once a week to the invalids on my street.

  • SweatingGin||

    I'd probably pay (a small amount) for a service to:

    1) No junk mail.
    2) Scan any letters/bills/legitimate stuff, email it to me, and shred the original.
    3) Maybe actually deliver cards or legal documents.

  • Dweebston||

    Something tells me that junkmail remains a significant source of revenue for the postal service. You're cutting off one leg of the stool to make another a bit longer.

  • Zeb||

    "ending delivery altogether, everyone gets a PO Box"

    I'd go for that. Such an enterprise might even be able to be profitable on its own.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Please, allow me to hoist the libertarian Anarchist flag in the name of constitutional amendments to eliminate Article I, Section 8, Clause 7; as well as the Takings Clause of the 5th Amendment.

    Replace with an absolute prohibition of government to engage in either.

  • Agammamon||

    You fool! Think of the time you'll save not having to go to the PO just to empty out that weeks worth of junk mail.

  • prolefeed||

    End the monopoly and allow FedEx and UPS and the Lysander Spooner Mail Delivery Company to deliver letters, and the local post office can be turned into a Starbucks or whatnot for all I care.

  • Dweebston||

    Postal workers are people, too. And people tend to have childrens. Why won't you think of the childrens?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "And when the funds come up short after the fact, as is happening all over the country, who is on the hook then?"

    The ripe sucks on the hook for everything - taxpayers who will pay more, savers who will be looted, etc.

  • AlgerHiss||

    Cut out Saturday delivery? Fine with me.

    You can take it to 2-3 days a week. Let's give that a whirl.

    As for an actual "office" to go to, dump 'em. It's far more convenient and pleasant to go to FedX or UPS.

  • Brian D||

    Mon-Weds-Fri delivery from the USPS would probably work out, and let UPS and Fed-Ex handle such things as overnight deliveries.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    They could easily go to an every other day delivery system with the same mail man deliverying to different address blocks on alternating days.

    Better yet, just privatize it and eliminate the letter monopoly.

  • ||

    The recession changed that, affecting banks that typically send lots of mail and homeowners who receive it, said Jim Sauber, chief of staff of the National Assn. of Letter Carriers.

    In other words, the bulk of their business is delivering "You're pre-approved!" letters.

  • Hugh Akston||

    How will this affect the Postal Service reunion tour and album?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    When I pay my electric bill (by dropping the payment in the mail slot inside the Post Office lobby), the envelope probably never even leaves the building, since the address is a P O box. The stamp likely doesn't even cover the cost of that delivery.

  • sarcasmic||

    All they ever bring me are bills and invitations to take on new debt. Fuck 'em.

  • Libertymike||

    How about birthday cards?

    How about RSVPs to your wild, crazy parties?

  • sarcasmic||

    That would require having friends and family who give a shit.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    We give a shit. Didn't you get that package that...uh, nevermind!

  • sarcasmic||

    I meant that figuratively, not literally.

  • anon||

    Also, there's this new thing called a telephone. It's like mail, but instant! You can actually have a live conversation with someone that you care about on their birthday, rather than get a card that's going to sit around on your coffee table for a year until your SO bitches at you about having too much shit strewn about the house and you throw it away, only to have your mother come over and bitch at you about throwing out that card she sent you 3 years ago.

    Yeah, no post office is definitely win-win.

  • Agammamon||

    Are you on fire? Is it a life and death emergency? Then TEXT me that shit!

  • anon||

    Chances are, even if it is an emergency, you have maybe a 1% chance on any given day that I give enough of a shit to answer.

  • Dweebston||

    This. I make explicitly clear in my voicemail greeting that I don't check it. If I could do the same with hand-delivered mail, I would.

  • JW||

    And when the funds come up short after the fact, as is happening all over the country, who is on the hook then?

    I nominate Ralph Nader.

  • nilecroc||

    Or,you know, you could privatize the damn thing instead of using other people's money to keep a monopoly on a shitty and soon to be obsolete services

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Well, what they did with this Constitutionally provided monstrosity is turn it into a government owned corporation that is supposed to pay for itself.

    I have no evidence of this being their intention, but it came out like TVA (warning, some self promotion there) and TVA was never a Constitutionally provided monstrosity, it was a monstrosity created by FDR, Congress, and blessed by the SCOTUS.

    Both bleed money, neither is self-sufficient, and the excuse for both is that evil corporations will not do the job as comprehensively as government.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    The Postal Service is a government corporation, which means it is organized like a business yet subject to congressional oversight.

    The monopoly that the USPS holds over mail delivery is of course just another example of FREE MARKIT FAILYER!!!

    /proglodyte

    Uncouple it from congressional control, and start cutting all manner of shit until it can run.

  • nilecroc||

    *progtard

  • Pro Libertate||

    My wife does a good deal of business at the post office and hears regularly how the USPS is "private." From the clerks.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Does that mean it is no longer a federal offense to shoot one of them?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The Postal Service is a government corporation, which means it is organized like a business yet subject to congressional oversight.

    In the eyes of the law, that's partly true:

    Our conclusion is consistent with the nationwide, public
    responsibilities of the Postal Service. The Postal Service
    has different goals, obligations, and powers from private corporations.
    Its goals are not those of private enterprise.
    The most important difference is that it does not seek profits,
    but only to break even, 39 U. S. C. § 3621, which is consistent
    with its public character. It also has broader obligations,
    including the provision of universal mail delivery, the provision
    of free mail delivery to certain classes of persons,
    §§ 3201–3405, and, most recently, increased public responsibilities
    related to national security. Finally, the Postal
    Service has many powers more characteristic of Government
    than of private enterprise, including its state-conferred monopoly
    on mail delivery, the power of eminent domain, and
    the power to conclude international postal agreements.

    United States Postal Serv. v. Flamingo Indus. (USA) Ltd., 540 U.S. 736 (2004).

  • Dweebston||

    Congress also claims the right to regulate interstate commerce. Commerce requires all manner of subsidiary goods, like shoes and shirts. After all, most places won't serve a shoeless or shirtless patron. Why hasn't Congress nationalized these industries as indispensable contributors to interstate commerce?

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    I haven't seen one of those signs at the Post Office (didn't really look either). Sounds like a good test case.

  • hotsy totsy||

    In other words, it doesn't seek to make a profit because it doesn't HAVE to make a profit. It "breaks even" by having taxpayers foot the bill.

  • nilecroc||

    Or,you know, you could privatize the damn thing instead of using other people's money to keep a monopoly on a shitty and soon to be obsolete service.

  • ||

    The Postal Service has far too little flexibility when it needs to adjust, and it's really in handcuffs because of all the requirements Congress puts on it

    Um, duh!

  • mr lizard||

    I hate dealing with mail. Usually it's a once-month-process of tearing up crap and mayb looking at one thing

  • Dweebston||

    If even one piece of worthwhile mail makes it into your hands once in awhile...

  • UnCivilServant||

    If it stops one piece of junk mail...

  • Cdr Lytton||

    My local post offices are doing their damnedest to drive away customers and destroy whatever value they do provide. The latest is dropping the cutoff time for outgoing mail to 3pm or earlier at most post offices in the area. The blue collection boxes are getting similar treatment.

  • MiloMinderbinder||

    Postal Employee: "May I help you?"
    Kramer: "Yeah, I'd like to cancel my mail."
    Postal Employee: "Certainly. How long would you like us to hold it?"
    Kramer: "Oh, no, no. I don't think you get me. I want out, permanently."
    Newman: "I'll handle this, Violet. Why don't you take your three hour break?
    Oh, calm down, everyone. No one's cancelling any mail."
    Kramer: "Oh, yes, I am."
    Newman: "What about your bills?"
    Kramer: "The bank can pay 'em."
    Newman: "The bank. What about your cards and letters?"
    Kramer: "E-mail, telephones, fax machines. Fedex, telex, telegrams,
    holograms."
    Newman: "All right, it's true! Of course nobody needs mail. What do you
    think, you're so clever for figuring that out? But you don't know the half of
    what goes on here. So just walk away, Kramer. I beg of you."
    Supervisor: "Is everything all right here, Postal Employee Newman?"
    Newman: "Yes, sir, I believe everything is all squared away. Isn't it, Mr.
    Kramer?"
    Kramer: "Oh, yeah. As long as I stop getting mail!"

  • Fluffy||

    Congress saved Saturday delivery for the union and the union only.

    They certainly didn't do it for the public.

    The rural office thing is the most galling of all. The real reason they saved the rural offices is to protect the emotions (!) of people who live in those towns. Their emotions (!) would have been hurt if the post office closed, because it would make them feel (!) like they didn't live in a "real town". (Vermont is full of such people. I know they must also exist elsewhere.)

  • JW||

    I always assumed that when you moved to the sticks, you readily accepted the limitations of everything that came with living in the middle of nowhere, as opposed to a population center, like high-speed internet and a selection of coffee shops grater than 1.

    Now that I see what a hurtful bastard I am, I'm going to have to find a way to repent in my evil ways of thinking.

  • Doctor Whom||

    You most certainly should repent. One of the most fundamental human rights is to live wherever you want and still enjoy the benefits of life in a completely different place. If that isn't economically feasible, that's why the good Lord created the coercive power of government.

  • SweatingGin||

    They might have to start putting post offices in WALMARTS! OMG! Can you imagine having to walk into a walmart to get stamps and drop off a letter?!?

  • anon||

    That'd obviously be far to convenient to be a government service. Also, better ban UPS from such unsavory business practices too. You know, so we can save all those postal jerbs.

  • Agammamon||

    Yeah, the PO would just by a really expensive RV fleet and pay out the nose to have them refit so they could come play mobile post office in all the rural areas.

  • RBS||

    Maybe WalMart should just start delivering the mail, I mean they already have the supply chain/logistics capability. Everyone gets a WalMail box at the nearest Walmart.

  • Dweebston||

    They can install a facade between the in-store clinic and pharmacy.

  • Jordan||

    I would notice, simply because I would no longer have a tsunami of junk mail to sort through on the 1 day a week that I actually check my mail.

  • ||

    But you're PRE-APPROVED! Don't you want to receive important messages from people who have pre-approved YOU, Mr. Jorquain, to owe them money!?

  • anon||

    You check yours once a week? Lucky if I stop at my mailbox once a month.

  • Jordan||

    I wish I could manage that, but after about a week, the box becomes full and they hold all of my mail at the post office. No way in hell I'm going to go there and interact with the cretins who work there.

    How do you avoid that?

  • anon||

    What are they going to hold that's of any value to me? Junk mail?

    Fuck them, they can have it.

    Quite literally the only things I need to check my mailbox for are debit card renewals and whatever miscellaneous shit I might buy on ebay/amazon/whatever. They can have the rest of that shit.

  • Jordan||

    LOL that's great. I'm just paranoid that I'm going to miss a jury duty summons or court summons because I've broken one of the 80 billion laws that I didn't know existed or because some government dipshit screwed up and didn't enter my tax payment correctly.

  • anon||

    Unless they send the jury summons via certified mail there's no way they can prove you received it, which gets you out of jury duty.

    Win-win.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Just out curiosity, anyone know how much revenue Netflix provides to USPS? It's about the only reason I would miss Saturday or everyday delivery and Netflix has made no secret of their desire to ditch the physical disc business.

  • Agammamon||

    I wish they would - I signed up this month for the "Arrested Development" series and an SOOOOORRREEEELLLY disappointed at their selection of on demand movies.

  • prolefeed||

    You can watch Arrested Development online -- just google "Free TV Arrested Development" to find a hosting site -- though, from checking out about 1.2 A D episodes yesterday, why would you want to inflict that on yourself?

  • Jordan||

    I've watched the first 2 new episodes and was not impressed. I think I actually laughed once per episode.

  • prolefeed||

    About 5 minutes into the second episode, I thought "The fuck? This isn't funny." and went to a free movie site and watched "The Lives of Others".

    Waaaay better use of my time.

  • Scotticus Finch||

    ...SOOOOORRREEEELLLY disappointed at their selection of on demand movies

    I think it must be a license issue. Amazon Prime has an almost identical selection through their streaming service, adding the same titles at the same time, etc.

  • Jordan||

    No way. Amazon has far more new releases than Netflix.

  • AuH20||

    Yeah it really does. Still though, it is pretty clear that rights holders are still really, deeply unhappy about streaming. They aren't making as much money as they used to and this makes them sad.

  • Scotticus Finch||

    For "free" with the Amazon Prime streaming service? I disagree. More to rent for a fee, sure, but Netflix streaming doesn't offer that at all. The sites are there, and I'm not seeing many differences at all between Netflix streaming and Prime streaming.

  • Scotticus Finch||

    The "top" movies free to stream through an Amazon Prime membership service right now are currently Hunger Games and Rango. The new releases still cost money to rent beyond the membership fee.

  • Zeb||

    I can never find anything I want on Amazon that is free with Prime.

  • AuH20||

    See, if you use Netflix for on demand tv shows, as I do, its great, but yeah, I can see how it would piss off you movie types.

  • Spiny Norman||

    A couple of weeks ago I went to the post office in downtown Redmond to mail a check to my dentist. It seems the post office had closed down the previous July. I had to find a mailbox somewhere else.

    It was exhausting.

  • The Last American Hero||

    They still have the one off 202 by the UPS depot.

  • Zeb||

    Can't you just put it in your mailbox and put up the little flag? That's the only way I ever mail anything.

  • anon||

    Will Your Local Post Office Still Exist Next Year?
    Probably. Unfortunately.

    Will You Even Notice?

    Nope. Don't think I've been to a post office in 5 years.

  • itsnotmeitsyou||

    Yeah, this. I think the last time I went to a post office it was because I needed to ship something and it was literally one block over. I left when I saw the cost/time for delivery. Walked an additional 5 blocks to get to FedEx and shipped.

    I have had to call USPS to fix a forwarding looping problem with 2 addresses I lived at. That was "fun"

  • Zeb||

    Is the PO more than UPS or FedEx now for packages? I guess it's been a while since I shipped anything in the mail, but it used to always be way less expensive, especially for international.

  • SweatingGin||

    I wonder what the end-game is for the post office. ie, the people who support it/love it/need it/whatever -- they must recognize that the volume will, at some point, be absurdly low.

    The volume keeps declining, and the ratio of legitimate mail to junk goes down, further driving more people to pay bills electronically, meaning even lower volume and worse ratio.

    At some point, doesn't it hit a spot where the paper mail (not counting ebay items and such that can go through UPS and FedEx) is just junk with an occasional birthday card from grandma thrown in?

    I'm sure plenty of these people are fine with subsidizing that forever and ever, amen, but it seems like at some point it becomes ludicrous to keep doing it. That point is probably closer than we realize, too.

    Maybe it's when netflix drops dvds?

  • anon||

    You say this as if we don't have a zillion other useless government programs that just keep on going despite their absurdity.

  • sarcasmic||

    Those "useless" government programs provide jobs for people who are otherwise unemployable. Government is a jobs program for idiots.

  • anon||

    I sincerely believe any interaction with any government agency proves this as fact.

  • SweatingGin||

    I've got a great idea. Close post offices in the cities, make giant ones in the middle of nowhere. Put in Amtrak lines to those.

    People will ride the Amtrak to the post office to mail their packages! Think of the synergies!

  • anon||

    Please, for the love of god, please quit giving them more ideas on how to piss away my money. They're already exceptionally talented at finding ways.

  • JasonTromm||

    I rarely, if ever, go to an actual post office. I tend to stop in at the mini-branch in my local Ace Hardware. If they post office for my zip code closed, I wouldn't even notice.

  • JW||

    But, without the post office, how will Bank of America mail blank checks to the wife-unit for her credit card, to sit in our mailbox all day, complete with her CC account number, Every. Fucking. Month.

  • anon||

    Can we get some stories about postal vehicles running over children then hold them up to the world as a case against everything to do with the post office?

    I mean, if it works for them, it ought to work for us, right?

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    All you will get is calls for more travel restrictions, more licensing, and taking vehicles away from civilians.

    Just like with our guns.

  • RandomJackass||

    Yes, I will notice because I would no longer have to throw out the reams of junk mail waste that they stuff into my mailbox every day.

  • T||

    I have this mental image of the far future where 6 workers sit in an isolated kiosk. Occasionally someone wanders in, and asks if they are a Starbucks. No, they are the USPS. They spend their time playing cards and doing things that don't require internet access. If a patron does wander in, they have to consult the huge notebooks of instructions to actually do anything.

  • creech||

    Yeah, and each and every congressional district gets a $10 million grant to use as "walking around money" to give constituents who "deserve" help with their FedEx shipments.

  • hotsy totsy||

    From the article about the high school kid who had no idea how to mail a letter, I'm guessing in the next decade we'll also see the end of checks and checking accounts, and bill paying in the mail.

  • Zeb||

    I still can't accept automatic debits. Automatic deposits are great, but I want to specifically authorize any time money leaves my account.

  • lap83||

    What struck me most about the mail-challenged teenager story was that the dad's only motivation was getting him money for graduating. To me, that sums up the real reason why snail mail is dying. People associate it with salesmanship. Personally, I do send thank you cards/ post cards/ christmas cards, but the vast majority of people don't and I would rather do without their money-grubbing graduation/wedding notices when they would never talk to me otherwise.

  • lap83||

    What struck me most about the mail-challenged teenager story was that the dad's only motivation was getting him money for graduating. To me, that sums up the real reason why snail mail is dying. People associate it with salesmanship. Personally, I do send thank you cards/ post cards/ christmas cards, but the vast majority of people don't and I would rather do without their money-grubbing graduation/wedding notices when they would never talk to me otherwise.

  • lap83||

    goddamn it

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    FUN UPDATE: Man's teenage son has no idea how to mail letters.

    Jeffrey Tucker has a quip about that in one of his videos. Always funny stuff.

  • owen||

    http://mallsjersey.blogspot.com/
    Cheap NFL Jerseys, NHL Jerseys, MLB Jerseys, NBA Jerseys Online,
    Authentic 2013 New Style, Wholesale and Custom, Fast Delivery,
    Free shipping fee http://modernjerseys.org/

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement