Post Office

U.S. Postal Service Can Make Americans Dislike The Simpsons

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The Simpsons, the longest-running situation comedy in the history of American television and an international marketing colossus that continues to delight millions of fans, has finally found a way to lose money: Get the United States Postal Service involved. 

Bloomberg's Angela Greiling Keane reports

In a move that wasted $1.2 million in printing costs, the service produced 1 billion of "The Simpsons" stamps and sold 318 million.

The Postal Service inspector general in a report singled out the overproduction of stamps marking the 20th anniversary of the cartoon's run on News Corp. (NWS)'s Fox network as an example of failing to align stamp production with demand.

"If the Postal Service can't address a simple matter such as determining how many commemorative stamps to produce, it shows they can't address the larger problems," Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said. "Unfortunately, even a small item can create larger problems."

The Postal Service launched the stamps in 2009, with plenty of hype. (Lisa Simpson buffs can order a framed original Lisa portrait for $50 and a matted giclée print for $25.) 

Is first-class letter postage still 44 cents?
U.S. Postal Service

Other stamps that didn't sell out their print runs, Keane reports, featured "the lunar new year, civil rights movement figures, Zion National Park, Supreme Court justices, historic U.S. flags, film director Oscar Micheaux and a Christmas stamp showing an angel with a lute."

The USPS, which posted a $5.2 billion loss for the third quarter, says the poor sales resulted from a decline in demand for fixed-postage stamps due to the popularity of its "forever" stamps. "The inspector general probe," Keane writes, "found no instances during 2009 and 2010 in which there was more demand for commemorative stamps than supply." 

The U.S. Constitution's Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 authorizes Congress to "establish Post Offices and post Roads" — a power that has, as Thomas Jefferson feared, grown into an iron government monopoly on letter delivery as well as "a source of boundless patronage to the executive, jobbing to members of Congress & their friends, and a bottomless abyss of public money." The 19th-century libertarian abolitionist Lysander Spooner successfully competed with the federal postal service and forced sharp reductions in postal rates for consumers, but Spooner's American Letter Mail Company was shut down by an 1851 law that empowered the postal service to declare all streets as "post roads" and made private competition effectively impossible.

The decline in demand for most forms of physical mail is revealing the USPS's structural weakness and inefficiency, and postal worker unions have been loudly calling for Congress to deliver billions of taxpayer dollars for continued patronage in the public mail service. That strategy has proved persuasive to vapid, talentless New York Times columnist Gail Collins and to quite a few other media observers, but so far it has not resulted in any real congressional action.