Economy / Regulation / U.S. Domestic Policy

Post Office Cuts a Double Edged Sword

By Logan Albright

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to close facilities, lay off workers and generally reduce the quality of service in order to cut costs. For advocates of limited government, this is both good and bad news.

The Post Office has long drawn scorn and ridicule for its reputation as embodying the very nature of government inefficiency. Incompetent workers hold what amount to lifetime appointments with little to no accountability or possibility of termination. The lines are long, service is bad and workers make no attempt to hide the fact that they don’t care about you or your mail.

Add to this the perpetually rising stamp prices, the rise of electronic communication and the effectiveness of parcel delivery services such as FedEx and UPS, and it becomes clear that the Post Office is an anachronism in the modern age, and certainly not one deserving of taxpayer funding.

Yet as liberals are so fond of pointing out, there is still a use for physical mail delivery. Not everyone has a computer, a smartphone or access to the internet, and there are still some bills that can only be paid with a physical check. Then there are those people who just like the tangible aspect of sending handwritten letters and birthday cards, as opposed to the digital and at times impersonal media of email, text messaging and e-cards.

The Federal Government, recognizing this need, continues to pump money—your money—into a failing system that nobody really likes. Yet the main problem with the Post Office is not that it exists, nor that it functions badly nor that it continues to raise fees while cutting services. The main problem is that, in the face of all these inefficiencies, customers have nowhere else to turn.

Despite the ever-mounting evidence that the Post Office is a failed institution, it continues to be illegal for a private company to pick up the slack and see if it can do better. Mail delivery is by law the sole province of the federal government, ensuring that the Post Office remains immune from competition and unaccountable for its poor performance.

It turns out the government is only against monopolies when they are the result of hard work, innovation and tough competition. Monopolies granted by federal dictum, however, are just fine. So while some taxpayer dollars are wasted on bullying successful firms like Microsoft and Google, others are being frittered away on feckless enterprises such as Amtrak and PBS.

And the Post Office is far from the only monopoly granted and enforced by the State. Power companies, airport security and certain types of telecommunications all fall under this description, with competition either being strictly regulated or outright forbidden.

The result of this is that we, the consumers, are stuck with high-priced, low-quality service for the foreseeable future. If the Post Office is unable to fund itself, then services certainly ought to be cut, but at the same time, the existing ban on competition puts those Americans who rely on conventional mail in a tight spot. Given the current state of technology, it would make more sense simply to lift the ban on private mail carriers, allowing FedEx and UPS to pick up the slack, while leaving room for new entrants who might—just might—find a better, more cost effective way of providing a still necessary service.

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