Samara O'Shea

The Reader’s Digest Version

Okay, I read the Post Office is Doomed article and pulled out what I think are the best bits. I have some comments interspersed throughout. If the USPS goes under, I’m moving to Sweden!

The Problem
“With the rise of e-mail and the decline of letters, mail volume is falling at a staggering rate, and the postal service’s survival plan isn’t reassuring. Elsewhere in the world, postal services are grappling with the same dilemma—only most of them, in humbling contrast, are thriving.”

The Praise
“The USPS is a wondrous American creation. Six days a week it delivers an average of 563 million pieces of mail—40 percent of the entire world’s volume. For the price of a 44¢ stamp, you can mail a letter anywhere within the nation’s borders. The service will carry it by pack mule to the Havasupai Indian reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Mailmen on snowmobiles take it to the wilds of Alaska. If your recipient can no longer be found, the USPS will return it at no extra charge. It may be the greatest bargain on earth.”

The Other Problem
“Since 2007 the USPS has been unable to cover its annual budget, 80 percent of which goes to salaries and benefits.”

The Inquiry
“This should be a moment for the country to ask some basic questions about its mail delivery system. Does it make sense for the postal service to charge the same amount to take a letter to Alaska that it does to carry it three city blocks? Should the USPS operate the world’s largest network of post offices when 80 percent of them lose money? And is there a way for the country to have a mail system that addresses the needs of consumers who use the Internet to correspond?”

The Solution
“The Postmaster General promises that if the USPS is excused from its annual health-care prepayment, he will wring enough costs out of the system to turn a profit on its remaining mail stream. He wants permission from Congress to cut weekly delivery from six to five days, which he says will save $3 billion a year.”

My thoughts: I would be fine with cutting back one day of mail delivery—especially if it saves that much money. Anything I send via USPS is not a rush—it’s a sentimental gift. It can take its time crossing ocean and land to get to its recipient.

The Other Solution
“What’s more, Donahoe wants to close post offices and move some of their operations into convenience stores and supermarkets, where nonunion workers can staff them.”

My thoughts: When I was in Ireland, I bought stamps at convenience stores and put the postcards in the mailboxes. It makes no difference to me where I get the service from. Yes, I love small-town post offices, and hopefully some of them will stick around. But sacrifices must be made if the service is going to stay in tact.

The European Approach
“Three decades ago, most postal services around the developed world were government-run monopolies like the USPS. In the late ’80s, the European Union set out to create a single postal market. It prodded members to give up their monopolies and compete with one another. The effort roused an industry often thought to be sleepy and backward-looking.

Many countries closed as many of their brick-and-mortar post offices as possible, moving these services into gas stations and convenience stores, which then take them over—just as the USPS is trying to do now, only far more aggressively. Today, Sweden’s Posten runs only 12 percent of its post offices. The rest are in the hands of third parties. Deutsche Post is now a private company and runs just 2 percent of the post offices in Germany. In contrast, the USPS operates all of its post offices.

Sweden’s Posten has an app that lets customers turn digital photos on their mobile phones into postcards. It is unveiling a service that will allow cell-phone users to send letters without stamps. Posten will text them a numerical code that they can jot down on envelopes in place of a stamp for a yet-to-be-determined charge.”

The (Typical) American Reaction: We Like it the Way It Is
“Herr returned to America full of excitement. In February he delivered a 40-page report to the House subcommittee that oversees the postal service. It makes two major points: The USPS needs to close post offices, as many foreign postal services have done despite real opposition. And the USPS needs to create products for its wired customers if it wants to play a role in the future of communication. He acknowledges some foreign digital services are in early stages, but they are in demand, and in some cases the digital technology reduces delivery costs.

Joseph Corbett, the American postal service’s chief financial officer, thanked Herr for his efforts. At the same time, he said the agency was sticking to its plan.”

Where the Trouble Began
“President Richard M. Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act, transforming the Post Office Dept. into the U.S. Postal Service, a government corporation that was supposed to pay for itself and behave more like a private business. This proved a naive assumption. The USPS’s leaders rewarded their union employees with more expensive benefits than most federal employees enjoy. According to the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General’s Office, it covers 79 percent of most of its employees’ health benefits, compared with the typical 72 percent for federal workers.”

Outlook Not Good
“I really believe that the USPS is going to get to a point where, regardless of what it does with the prefunding [of retiree health care], it is going to implode,” says R. Richard Geddes, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University. “It is either going to default on those obligations to its retirees or we are going to have to give it a direct bailout from the United States taxpayers.”

My final thought: If I, as a taxpayer, got to choose between bailing the United States Post Office or Wall Street Investment Banks, I’m guessing you know who I’d chose.