Friday, January 13, 2017

Norm in The Wave - The Choice Debates: Degrading the US Postal Service as a Public Institution

Published Jan. 13, 2017

The Choice Debates: Degrading the US Postal Service as a Public Institution
By Norm Scott

School Scope has been exploring the school choice debate by comparing public schools to other public services and what that might come to mean in the context of the drive to turn government into the problem instead of the solution. Let’s look at the Postal service as a public institution and what has happened to it since the election of anti-union, anti-government Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The U.S. Mail traces its roots to 1775 during the Second Continental Congress, where Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general. The Post Office Department was created in 1792 from Franklin's operation, elevated to a cabinet-level department in 1872, and transformed in 1971 into the U.S. Postal Service as an agency of the U.S. government…. Wikipedia

Wow! Good old Ben. He saw that in a democracy, a national post office was necessary as a public service and it even pre-dates our constitution and the founding of our nation in 1789. Over the past 40 years, the post office, like the public schools, is another public institution that is under attack, using the standard op of diverting funds that leads to degrading services that leads to an ultimate death spiral that could take decades, but ultimately ends up giving people less choice by taking away the public option and leaving the entire field to private interests who can raise prices to whatever they will bear.

Wiki continues: The USPS is legally obligated to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. The USPS has exclusive access to letter boxes marked "U.S. Mail" and personal letterboxes in the United States, but still competes against private package delivery services, such as the United Parcel Service (UPS) and has part use with FedEx Express.

We know that private postal services would not go places where they could not make a profit. Yes, the USPS has a mini-monopoly over mail boxes, and we hear the public schools charged with being a monopoly too. And Yes the USPS competes. But the key is that no public funding goes to the private UPS or FedEx like it does to charter schools. Imagine choicers saying their zip code doesn’t get good service and demand the government pay to use UPS.

Most of us like mail delivery by a mailman/woman who comes to your house or mailbox 6 days a week.  Or a post office in our zip code that is a neighborhood feature.

Was a public service like the postal service expected to show a profit? Not until the Reagan years according to Wikipedia:  Since the early 1980s, many of the direct tax subsidies to the Post Office (with the exception of subsidies for costs associated with the disabled and overseas voters) have been reduced or eliminated in favor of indirect subsidies.

Like the schools, a concerted attempt was made to privatize postal services since then by degrading the US Postal Service in order to open up venues for profit making companies. (I’ll get to the Staples operation in a minute.)
Wiki continues: (Note the BOLD)
 Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, (which mandated $5.5 billion per year to be paid into an account to fully prefund employee retirement health benefits, a requirement exceeding that of other government and private organizations, revenue dropped sharply due to recession-influenced declining mail volume, prompting the postal service to look to other sources of revenue while cutting costs to reduce its budget deficit.

Forcing the USPS to prefund the pensions, while looking progressive on paper, was actually a dagger to the heart.

Another classic privatization operation similar to the school choice op where money is funneled away from public into charters (and soon to come vouchers), thus starving the public institution until is becomes so degraded and inefficient, its foundation begins to crumble and its demise becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One of the interesting recent stories is how the USPS outsourced package shipping to 500 Staples stores, leading to a boycott of Staples – teachers were asked not to shop there for school supplies by the union. Well, that deal hasn’t worked out and the USPS is pulling the plug on the partnership. The postal workers’ union successfully argued its case in front of the National Labor Relations Board – a Board that under Trump would be unlikely to rule in favor of unions.

For those anti-union folks out there, I have been a critic of the lack of democracy in so many unions but I avidly support unions because they are often the only organized bulwark standing in the way of unfettered, run-amuck capitalism, which is the very reason the Republicans have targeted them specifically. And watch what happens to wages and standard of living when they are gone. Sadly, I believe we are about to see that happen and the outcome for the majority of people other than the very wealthy will not be pretty.

Reading assignment for next time at the American Prospect, The Folly of Trumponomics: It may produce a short-lived boom. Then, look out.

Norm blogs at

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