Privatize the Post…Oh, Just Forget It


Time was, small government-types loved to freak out about the Post Office. It was slow, inefficient, overfunded, and overhyped, everyone had to use it, and everyone hated it: The perfect infuriating symbol for government incompetence! As unlikely as it may seem to today's wee young Ron Paul supporters, "Privatize the Post Office!" was once a seriously stirring rallying cry. (On second thought,"Abolish the Fed!" is a far more surprising rallying cry. Carry on, unflappable Paultards.)

In the era of FedEx, email, texting, and free long distance calling, the privatization issue seems rather less pressing. And the Post Office has gotten much, much better, simply by offering cheaper, less reliable, subsidized knock-offs of the same services as their private competitors.

Wednesday, the Post Office reported a $2.4 billion quarterly loss. Mail volume will continue to fall by about 8 billion to 15 billion pieces a year in 2010, with a 20 percent decline since 2008.* The Post Office folks blame their bleak financial scenario a persnickety 2006 law that requires them to set aside about $5 billion annually to pay for retiree health benefits. Because it's, like, so unfair that they don't get to have unfunded liabilities when everyone else in government is totally doing it. (Mom to USPS: If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?)

Congress Daily reports on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's good-cop-bad-cop, wait-until-your-father-gets-home routine:

[The committee] approved legislation last week that would restructure those payments….The bill must be signed into law by the end of the current fiscal year in September to ensure that mail continues to be delivered as usual.

But union leaders testifying today said they oppose the bill as passed out of committee because of a "mean-spirited" amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., requiring that arbitrators take the financial situation of the USPS into account in negotiating union contracts. 

But even the good cop turned out to be mean: 

"I didn't see how I could justify voting against that amendment," said Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, who backed the Coburn amendment. "It is permissive, it is not mandatory, and it is a statement of reality."

Enjoy Reason's USPS privatization archive

*typos corrected.