Deadman's picture

    Is the US Postal Service obsolete? And what does it mean for health care?

    So apparently, the U.S. Postal Service is in a peck of trouble. Despite raising postage fees numerous times during the past couple of years, the USPS announced earlier this week that it had lost $2.4 billion between April and June and would be $7 billion in debt by the end of September.

    Are you kidding me? $2.4 billion in losses in 3 months?? Are you sure the USPS isn't making cars or selling subprime mortgages?

    I know the economy is tough, and more and more people are communicating digitally nowadays, but there's no excuse for this kind of performance. FedEx and UPS are still making money, after all.

    If the USPS was a normal private company, changes would be made pronto to get its fiscal house in order. But because we're talking about the government here, our lovely elected officials can seemingly do nothing but berate Postmaster General John Potter for the agency's performance while hemming and hawing over the implementation of some of the common sense changes he's asking for - like the elimination of Saturday service, closure of hundreds of offices, and changes in retiree pay. Even certain Republicans - like Missouri congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson - are worried about cutting back too much. They've got constituents to think about, after all.

    Of course, the postal worker union thinks Congress is already going too far and 'declaring war' on their kind. I've known a couple of people who work for the postal office and like most government workers, they have some of the most secure, cushy jobs out there. Anything that threatens the status quo is anathema to the postal union.

    In the end, however, the union will probably have to accept certain changes, like the end of Saturday delivery. Meanwhile, I wonder if we even need residential five-day delivery anymore? Why doesn't the USPS do like the garbage folks and stop by two or three days a week. I know that 90-plus percent of the mail I get nowadays is either junk or not particularly time-sensitive. The rare items that I want to get as soon as possible - Netflix movies, magazines - could probably be delivered through one of the private couriers.

    Don't get me wrong. In many ways, I'm impressed by how well the postal service works. Sure, going to the post office and getting service is a nightmare, but when you think about the millions of pieces of mail that get delivered on time and to the right address every day, it's a remarkable system, actually.

    In fact, when people have complained that a government-run health care plan would wind up being a total disaster, the USPS was one of the examples I often gave of government doing a big job pretty effectively.

    Unfortunately, I'm not so sure anymore. Perhaps the naysayers have a point.


    As you note, it's a remarkable system.  It's also one that can be salvaged.  Even from your own re-telling here, it sounds like we would be better off without a Congress than without a postal service.  Okay, I only half-way mean that.

    To extend your example of the USPS as a functional government apparatus, there's another way in which it serves as a counter-argument to opponents of healthcare reform.  Namely, reform opponents claim that health insurance companies couldn't compete with a government-run system.  Clearly this is not the case with the USPS and private carriers like UPS and FedEx.

    Of course, the reality is that a government-run healthcare system would actually force competition where there presently isn't any.  So, in reality, the truth is that they would have to compete, not that they couldn't.

    But, hey.. I live in a country where geriatric, flag-waving Medicare recipients shout, "Socialism!! BOO!!!"

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