Monday, December 19, 2011

Going Postal on the Post Office

From the steps of the Post Office in Greensburg, PA, it was possible to watch the parade of Buffalo
Bill's Wild West Show, and a lot more of this town's life.  This building now houses the public library, but the "new" post office (probably 50 years old by now) is across the street.  This photo was in 2010 and posted here by someone who identifies himself as Burgh15. Takes me back.

It's easier to start a war than to end one.  But it is easier to end a postal system than it is to start one.

The U.S. Postal Service predates the Constitution, though it wasn't called that then.  It is yet another system that has worked and has been the envy of the world, that shortsighted politicians and greedy (therefore non-sighted) business types can't wait to destroy.

The USPS is especially important for four specific reasons.  First, other businesses (and the USPS these days is a business that turns a profit) depend on it--including Fedex and UPS.  Second, it provides relatively secure, good paying jobs all over the country, which are secured through merit(basically by passing a test.)  Therefore it has been one of the least discriminatory employers for at least the last half century.  I suspect the first reason may get Congressional attention, and the second one will focus the attention of Democrats in Congress, to fix the idiotic problems that Congress has imposed on the USPS.

The third reason it is vital is that it goes everywhere, not just the most profitable urban corridors.  It is one of those institutions that holds the country together at the same time as it links all parts of it.  It is a foundation institution in small places, which is losing its others--such as the railroad station and the public library.  This is of even greater importance in the computer age, which encourages decentralization of businesses.  Without USPS, small businesses out in the country would find moving products impossible or prohibitively expensive.  But the role of the Post Office as a civic institution should not be overlooked.  In many small towns it is the prime representative of the federal government, a benevolent symbol of one nation.

The fourth reason is redundancy.  It is dangerous for a nation to put all its eggs in untested or vulnerable baskets.  New technologies may be more fragile than the hubristic new technologists realize.  Other fully privatized systems for moving mail and packages are subject to the same unpredictability as all corporations: they can go bust, they can be done in by financial manipulation, or they can cut so many "unprofitable' services that the country as well as the economy is helpless.

Having a system in place which is both centrally controlled and decentralized, in which the nation and every village and town have a vested interest in operating it efficiently, and which has worked--not always too well, but overall with remarkable consistency--for hundreds of years, could turn out to be extremely vital, especially in the times of emergencies that we are inevitably going to enter.

It's been fashionable to badmouth the Post Office.  People have legitimate gripes but amplified and simplified by the twittering media monomind, it's added up to a crippling image which is out of proportion to the facts.  USPS takes no government money, for example.  Did you know that?  It costs nothing in taxes.  And its services have improved to a pretty competitive level, at least where I live.

The announced cutbacks are being held off for now--let's hope that our otherwise entirely clueless Congress can eke out a moment of sanity to remove the barriers to a successful USPS continuing to improve into the future.

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