Singing the Postal Blues (and Oranges)

I'd like to suggest that Mr. Crutcher ("Yes, Postmaster General," Dec.) update his views. The Postal Service is already investigating the use of outside organizations to monitor delivery service for bank lock-box operations. That report has been very positive on USPS service.

The old productivity figures Mr. Crutcher complains about are also outdated. For at least two years, the Postal Service has been using a complex procedure known as Total Factor Productivity, which is accepted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the private sector as an acceptable approach. This measure shows that postal productivity is about the same as the nonfarm sector of the U.S. economy over the past decade.

Mr. Crutcher also claims that postal costs are out of control and puts the blame on overpaid labor. It is not as simple as that. Career employees at United Parcel Service can make substantially more than their postal counterparts—without adversely affecting profits. High wages are not the issue.

Competition, or repeal of the so-called postal monopoly, is the unobtainable panacea recommended by Mr. Crutcher. Yet technology has made the private express statutes virtually irrelevant. Electronic mail, facsimile, electronic funds transfer, and other communications media carry messages that traditionally were "mail."

The issue, unmentioned by Mr. Crutcher, is the continued restriction on the Postal Service's ability to respond to market pressures. I might suggest that the Postal Rate Commission (of which Mr. Crutcher is a member), costing hundreds of million dollars and paid for by the Postal Service, be abolished. Unregulated competitors such as UPS, which can influence the rates and service offerings of the regulated Postal Service, surely have nothing to fear from postal deregulation.

Kent B. Smith
Field Director
USPS, Southern Maryland Division
Capitol Heights, MD

Postal service Form 3227-R (April 1988)—the orange envelope by which I order and receive stamps and postcards at my rural mailbox—displays the following paragraph: "This envelope is provided, in conjunction with the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association National Joint Steering Committee on the Quality of Working Life/Employee Involvement Process, to make it convenient for you to purchase stamps and other postal products." To the eye of the untutored postal patron (me), the envelope differs from its pre-1988 incarnation chiefly in its resealability, its extreme orangeness (perhaps to remind the mailperson to beware of such spherical orange canines as graced the cover of REASON's December issue), and its larger size and smaller print (to accommodate the informative message).

If the additional revenue generated by the 13.5 percent increase in first-class rates will help to further the goals of the NRLCANJSCQWL/EIP, and if their vision of the Employee Involvement Process includes more Involvement in Quality Work, then I'm all for it.

Jeffry D. Mueller
Finksburg, MD

I am writing this as a member of the nation's smallest subculture: libertarian postal workers. As a 15-year employee of the Postal Service, I can assure you Mr. Crutcher's article on the Postal Service hit right on the postmark.

Being on the inside looking out, there is no question that the lack of "profit motive" is the biggest problem afflicting the service. No amount of reform will improve the operation until the Post Office is shaped and honed in the heat of free-market competition.

The second-biggest obstacle is the barrier of work rules erected by the postal unions. These rules promote waste, inefficiency, and sloppy work habits, while the unions spearhead a ferocious drive to head off privatization ("Private Cures for Postal Ills," Dec.). Union leaders claim their support of the postal monopoly is to ensure the best possible service for all citizens; but they fear that in the face of free-market forces the Postal Service would fold quicker than a postcard going through a letter-sorting machine.

Mine is a lonely vigil. I have yet to confront another libertarian or semilibertarian in the workplace. Could I be the only one out of 800,000? Sure, it is frustrating, but through rain, sleet, snow…

Conrad Gurt
Calumet City, IL

Flashy Foreign-Aid Fashions

Melanie Tammen's exposé of AID projects ("With Aid Like This…," Jan.) was most interesting. However, U.S. policy should not get all the blame.

In 1987 I worked on an AID-funded project in Egypt. We were designing a "low-tech" facility, on a massive scale. The Egyptian authorities ("our client") did not cooperate with the design effort and eventually refused to make available the land needed to build the facility. Now, almost two years later, AID and the design firms are trying to recommend the state-of-the-art technology that will achieve the same purpose and also satisfy the Egyptian government.

Throughout my tenure on the project, AID resisted requests by the client to provide overly sophisticated technology, which is somehow seen as an end in itself (status symbol) by those who don't have it. They fail to understand the important role of unsophisticated technology even in more-developed countries, for the same reasons of cost and simplicity that make it appropriate in less-developed countries.

Perhaps the greatest task faced by our foreign-aid dispensers is to educate the ensconced client bureaucrats that aid and technology are not manna from the wealthy to the poor, but investments in their own potential for self-improvement. There indeed may be AID projects that "vainly try to instantly transplant development from the United States," but in many cases this is exactly what the client nations are insisting on.

K.V. Leininger
Corvallis, OR

Good Enough for the Navy But Not for Nitwits

Howard Baetjer's article "Beauty and the Beast" (Dec.) should elicit a host of horror stories about trade licensing. I consider my own experience maddening, but not particularly unusual. As an enlisted man in the navy, I was trained as and worked as an electronics technician, servicing and maintaining complex radar systems aboard ships. I was involved in the Cuban missile crisis and played footsie with the Russian "fishing" trawlers. My talents were good enough to keep the systems operating and to protect the ship and ultimately the country.

After having my fill of chicken-dung discipline, I got out and decided that radio and TV repair was the thing to do. Not so, said the People's Republic of Massachusetts. You gotta have a license to fix TVs. No matter that a TV was a toy compared to a radar system. No matter that the theory is the same. No matter that my talents were good enough to defend the country, including the nitwit regulators. You gotta have a license, and you can't get a license without serving an "apprenticeship" of one year, which required yet another license. No matter that the licensing procedure grandfathered the hacks, parts hangers, and tube changers that were already in the business.

There is no question in my mind that the licensing of radio and TV techs was a direct result of many people like myself who got out of the service with good training and broad experience in electronics and threatened the existing businesses with competition. There is no question in my mind that this threat of competition was the real and only driving force behind the licensing hogwash, despite the unsupportable claims of "public safety" and "consumer protection."

Len Gay
Onset, MA

Off Balance

The case for a limited constitutional convention to enact a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution did not deserve the lukewarm support it received from John J. Pitney, Jr. ("Budget Balancing Act," Jan.). A so-called concon is the only way left for us to restore any fiscal sanity to our budgetary process.

As Pitney admits, Congress has proven itself resistant to adopting the amendment on its own. The people have little choice but to take matters into their own hands, through their state governments. The fear of a "runaway convention" cited by so many opponents is unfounded. There are simply too many safeguards in the convention process to worry about our cherished freedoms being abolished.

It is doubtful, though, that a convention would ever take place, anyway. We are now just two states away. If New Jersey, next to act, adopts a resolution favoring the convention, Congress would act on its own as it did in 1912 when proponents of the direct election of senators came within one state of convening a constitutional convention.

The framers of the Constitution were well aware that Congress could become intransigent, which is why they included the convention process in that great document. And it was Thomas Jefferson who lamented that a balanced-budget requirement was not originally included as well.

What it comes down to is whether or not we can apply enough pressure to Congress to force them to act. Passage of the various resolutions endorsing a constitutional convention is just such a way.

Richard L. Duprey
New Jerseyans for a Balanced Budget
Convent Station, NJ

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

I have been subscribing to REASON for about a year now. I am not going to renew my subscription because of your October issue calling for the legalization of drugs.

How can drugs be legalized and America continue to be a free country? Your masthead says "Free Minds and Free Markets." Well, with rampant drug use, neither would be free at all. The solution to the drug epidemic is not to legalize them and create more problems; it is to really stop their use, with the death penalty, searches and seizures, and penalties for the small user.

Your magazine would have America go the way of pre-Communist China, weakened to the point of collapse by imported drugs. Let's remember history and get rid of drugs—not legitimize them simply to fit your particular ideology with no heed to the consequences.

David P. Johnson
North Marshfield, MA

The letters under the "Drug-vote-crazed" headline (Jan.) omit the one argument that could make drug legalization (or decriminalization) acceptable. It is the same argument, written into law, that increases the penalties for DUI offenses above those that would apply otherwise. It is the unaccepted argument of the National Rifle Association in opposition to gun-control proposals, that crimes involving guns should be penalized more heavily than those involving knives and baseball bats. As a matter of political acceptability (James M. Buchanan, "Camelot Will Not Return," Jan.), crimes "under the influence" or even illegal manufacture and distribution ("moonshine" laws) would have to require rigorous and above-average punishment under law. But most of all, the notion that irresponsibility is an excuse for criminal behavior would have to abandoned.

Earl B. Lancaster
Peoria, IL

In Defense of Robocop and Running Man

I found much with which to disagree in "Shoot-'em-Ups Go Left" by Richard Marin (Jan.). His main gripe seems to be that "violent action-adventure at the movies is no longer the exclusive property of good ol' Republican values." His conclusion, however, that the new genre of movies is anticapitalist or full of "laissez-faire privatization run amok" is incorrect. Anti-Republican and anticapitalist are not one and the same.

I have seen and immensely enjoyed both Robocop and The Running Man. I would recommend both to any freedom-loving individual.

Robocop makes the statement that to have true liberty, law and order must be based on certain principles. Robocop has no trouble arresting, and sometimes damaging, individuals who abuse other people's rights to their persons and properties. Without hesitation he arrests and shoots robbers and rapists. He even does this with a sense of fair treatment of criminals; he does not shoot the robbers until it is absolutely necessary, and he shoots the rapist in the organ where it does the most damage. What Robocop does not do, however, is kill innocents just because his "maker" wants them out of the way. He actually shows development of a conscience, even though it happens to be a programmed conscience, when he has trouble killing his maker even after realizing that his maker is a criminal, someone who does not respect individual rights. At the end of the movie, however, this dilemma is nicely solved and he kills his maker in "self-defense."

The Running Man is even better. It is set in a future where the United States has followed its logical philosophical course and has become a totalitarian state. Arnold Schwarzenegger "(a Republican, incidentally)," starts out as a policeman for the state. When he refuses to shoot innocent, unarmed demonstrators against the state, he is sent to prison for life. After a somewhat contrived escape, he tries to flee Big Bad L.A. for Hawaii. He is caught and, at the insistence of a quasi-governmental game show host, Richard Dawson, has to escape well-trained government hit men while all America watches via government-approved broadcasting. Due to a well-planned technological misinformation campaign against him, the public, exemplified by a "little old lady," wishes him nothing but a brutal death and places bets against him. As he ingeniously overcomes each obstacle and kills the hit men, the little old lady slowly but surely starts cheering for him. After he has overcome all obstacles and finds the hidden government broadcasting center, he is finally able to show the true story of what happened to him.

Although the action of each film centers around a profit-seeking enterprise, these enterprises have little to do with capitalism or laissez-faire privatization. They represent the gross reality of our times—Government and Business bedding down with each other.

John Cralley Shaw
Houston, TX