Jen Sorensen on the imminent demise of the postal service.
The USPS faces a combination of factors similar to that which has been so hard on newspapers: Genuine financial issues compounded by fashionable disdain ("snail mail" -- Oh, how terribly clever! How whimsically amusing!).
Well, except that -- as she notes on her blog -- the "genuine" part of "genuine financial issues" requires modification in the case of the USPS, because a major financial challenge has been anything but "genuine": The demand by Congress that the service fund its retirement programs 75 years in advance.
I would say "inexplicable" demand, except that it's quite explicable, as the Alternet article that Jen links to points out. (She really saved me a lot of work -- that is a must-read explanation of what is happening.)
The USPS is a strange hybrid, made stranger by politicians who work in the service of private industry. While the postal service gets no tax money, it is governed as if it did, and yet required to operate as if it didn't, but also as if it did, depending.
That is, it can't show a deficit, but it's forbidden to operate by free-market rules, either.
And, certainly, mail volumes are down. That is genuinely part of the problem, though, without the heavy hand of Congress on its throat, the postal service could work it out.
The regulatory constraints, however, change it from a challenge into a crisis.
Admittedly, I still have checks with an address from nearly four years ago, because I write so few. In fact, about the only paper checks I've written in the past year were 12 to my landlord (which I just walk up to the front of the house) and to renew my automobile registration and dog license (which I walk over to the town hall). Maybe half a dozen others, for random reasons.
And my regular, bread-and-butter client pays me by direct deposit; I get a few freelance checks in the mail from one-off sales, but even those are going the electronic route.
So, what mail do I get? A few thank-you notes from the few well-bred people I know. (Of which I am not one -- I use email for such things.) An occasional packet of hard-copy material from someone. Some Christmas cards. Flyers from local businesses, catalogs and, every two weeks, an invitation to apply for a Barclay card.
That latter has gone from "persistent little devil, isn't he?" to "how much stockholder money do you intend to waste on this?" But at least they're subsidizing the postal service (see illustration, above).
And I get quite a few packages from Amazon and other on-line merchants, but some of those companies use UPS or FedEx instead, which is a pain because UPS and FedEx don't know where I live.
It took me three days to retrieve a FedEx package one time. They explained that the driver couldn't find my apartment. But then they defended the lack of effort by saying that he had left a door hanger, which raised a logical question that made them very huffy and defensive.
I have a PO Box, but I could just as easily have mail delivered to the door, in which case the carrier would know where I lived, just as the clerks at the post office know who I am when I come in. When I have a package slip in my box, I say the box number as I hand it to them, but that's just out of courtesy: They already know it.
Which brings us, perhaps a bit circuitously, to an aspect of cost that I take personally. I live in a small town and only just around the corner from the town square -- yes, just like in "Back to the Future," except that our town hall is in the middle of the long side instead of at the end of the short side. The post office is at the end of one of the short sides, and I can walk there in about three minutes.
However, I have roots in and great affection for a part of the country where the post office may be six miles away, and the demands Congress is imposing on the USPS are causing closures of those small, remote post offices.
That may sound sensible, if you live in a major metro area and only see those little towns as you drive through them on your way somewhere else.
But for older people, for low-income people and for older, low-income people, their towns are not just "wide places in the road." They are home, and a home in which advanced age and the price of gasoline present serious challenges.
Postal service is vital, and needs to be available and accessible throughout the country, regardless of where people live and whether they have the financial or physical capability to go to the next town over, which may be 40 miles away, with no public transit and not such terrific roads.
To be more precise: Older, low-income rural people may have a relative or friend to run them into town once or twice a week for groceries, maybe to do some banking, and to go to the post office.
If that trip to a post office becomes a trip 40 miles away, it is more likely to be a once-a-month errand for everyone in town, and thus particularly burdensome for those dependent on others.
But the people who own Congress don't respect the poor and elderly. We already know that.
And they would like to privatize mail delivery in this country, just as they want to privatize everything else, on the principle that government of the people, for the privileged and by the privileged, must not perish from the face of the earth.
It's not right. It's just not right.