Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Postage Due

One of the more idiotic things about conservatives is this crying need to privatize everything, as if somehow private companies could do a far better job than the government in everything.
Case in point: The US Postal Service. The USPS is mandated to deliver mail to every single household in America, and to do it for a flat rate. A letter costs 44 cents, whether it travels one mile, ten, or three thousand.
Conservatives would have us privatize that service, somehow ensuring that the statutory service provisions would survive privatization. They wouldn't, as anyone who's waited for the UPS man to come can tell you.
Now, however, we've reached a point where we may have to make changes to the Postal Service:

WASHINGTON—U.S. Postmaster General John Potter expects to deliver more bad news Tuesday to postal customers, employees and Congress, revealing forecasts for continued losses that can be stanched only with higher prices and reduced service.

Faced with mounting red ink, the Postal Service will seek to cut back mail delivery to five days a week starting next year, to raise rates on some postal services beyond what it's currently allowed to charge, and to impose emergency rate increases.

A plan the Postal Service will file with the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission later this month aims to scale back delivery in 2011 from the current six-days-a-week schedule. Discussions with postal regulators over rate increases are under way as well; increases being sought could result in sharp increases in some postal rates, including for newspapers and magazines.

The US Postal Service operates as a not-for-profit agency. This is a good thing. It keeps our mailing costs down.

The problem, to me, seems to come in the form of the admixture of a not-for-profit agency saddled with the burden of providing service to for-profit companies. Now, toss in the Internet, meaning e-mail, online bill payment, and online reading materials that used to be delivered by the USPS, and you begin to understand the problem.

There's enormous waste in the system that needs to be accounted for before we talk about cutting back services to five days a week. This wouldn't be the first service cuts imposed. Believe it or not, when I was a lad, the postman dropped off mail twice a day!

I know! Astounding, isn't it?

First thing we need to do is to reduce the volume of junk mail that clogs our mailboxes. Direct marketers, catalog operations, and other "snail spammers" ought to pay for the luxury of jamming my mailbox so full that sometimes I don't get urgent mail because it's been crushed into the bottom of my box.

A dual service, then, would be served by upping the bulk mail rate on non-periodicals. It would slow the tide of junk while providing a needed boost of cash. Trust me, catalog providers won't stop sending catalogs if we doubled the rate. Too, so many catalogs are now online that a smart marketer would send out fliers instead with a representative sample, directing people to a website.

Second, the USPS ought to get into tighter competition with the private carriers like Fedex. Fedex funnels their package services through central hubs like Memphis, TN, even if you're shipping across town. Crosstown packages could get a guarantee of overnight deliveries at prices deeply discounted from Fedex's. Hell, match Fedex pricing and promise same-day service, and the volume will jump (courier services charge a lot more, so the USPS would find itself in a mid-price point).

Third, encourage people to visit the post office more often. Open non-mail related kiosks, for one thing. How about a selection of greeting cards? Or newspapers, the same ones people get delivered? Give people a reason to go to the post office, and then give them a reason to buy there.

Those are just off the top of my head. Do you guys have any other ideas?