Let’s Go Postal

miracle34street

Click to watch the postal service save Santa Claus

In a bold move anyone who reads the paper has expected for months, the postal service is revising it’s slogan: Rain, sleet, or snow won’t keep us from our appointed rounds, but political incompetence is another story.

I don’t know if it will catch one, but it should.

The postal service takes a pretty regular beating in popular culture. No one worries someone will go all professoral on someone, but we fear someone going postal. While Fraser Crane might have endured some ribbing each week on Cheers, Cliff Claven serves as a perfect example or our ideas regarding the postal service.

Such attacks are, as we might imagine, a tad bit problematic but that’s the price of popular culture.

Since I don’t know any postal workers, I won’t contend they aren’t all Cliff Clavens, but I will argue that bashing the post office for inefficiency is short sighted and a little bit unfair. Kevin Brown, over at the Tucson Sentinel, does a good job of describing the knots Congress has created through their ceaseless meddling. In essence, we have a variety of Congressman and Senators who think they understand how to run a business better than the people actually running the business. Because surely, John McCain, a man who has been in Congress since shortly after the Vietnam War, has years and years of actual experience working with the post office. Sure. More likely, he’s a guy who hasn’t licked his own stamp in 30 years, much less understands profits and margins.

I feel badly for the post office. They are much more efficient than people pretend. We might first note that the post office deals with 554 million pieces of mail a day. I deal with about 50 and lose 3 or 4. I live in a town of 100,000 people and every day people get mail. For 44 cents. Sure it costs more than an email, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than driving across town and handing it off myself.

Equally important: the postal service receives no tax dollars. They are supposed to complete with the private sector competition and generate all their income from the price of stamps and the services the perform.

Yet, like public schools competing with charter schools, the postal service has to also deal with government intrusion.

Let me just say that if John McCain and his ilk told Fed Ex how to run their business, they would be in debt also. (Fed Ex, not our precious Senators.)

The issue, quite frankly, isn’t the post office. The issue isn’t private versus public entities. The issue, as is too often the case, is a governmental system, a government dominated by men who claim to be in favor of competition and market driven principles, that won’t let the postal service run its own business. This is a system that dictates how much the post office can charge customers and makes those choices based on political ideology. This is a system that has ordered the postal service to underfund its own pension system. This a system that has rejected for years the recommendation that we end Saturday delivery or require neighborhood mail boxes, curb side mail boxes, or post office boxes.

In other words, the very men complaining about how bad and inefficient the postal service is are the same ones who have created laws keeping them inefficient.

Now we know why Thomas Pynchon’s postmodern novel The Crying of Lot 49 deals with mail service. The whole enterprise is absurd.

Like other ideas from back in the day (as my students like to refer to anything older than last week), the postal service was a great idea when it started. The idea that we could nationalize communication helped create open markets and helped create a national sense of identity. We might even imagine the mail service as the precursor to the interstate highway system. In the same way that highways created mobility and allowed American’s free reign to leave home, explore, create, innovate, and start anew, the postal service allowed us to share information. Counter-intuitively, the expansion of the country brought us closer together by creating an emphasis on sharing information from coast to coast. I could, as mail service evolved, move city to city or state to state and still remain in contact with my family and my culture. Letters from California encouraged movement, creating shifting populations and new industries.

And, perhaps most importantly, mail service exposed us to voices outside of our own community without censorship or interference. No longer did I have to accept that the rules and regulations in my town were all that existed. No longer did I have to imagine that all existence was that which I could see. There was, the postal service allowed us to see, another place with other people. They did this without regard to income, education, or birth. Like the public library, the post office was the epitome of a growing democracy.

But those times are over. The postal service has become a victim of over regulation by a Congressional system so deeply mired in its own individual ideology that it can no longer function. In some ways, we might argue the postal service has outlived its usefulness and is slowly becoming a sad relic of another age, caught in the cross hairs of a dysfunctional government.

The time has come for all things to end. In this case, I propose the US Postal Service go up for sale. This is a multi-billion dollar company that did 66 billion dollars in business last year. Its debt is largely due to forces outside its control. Remove the politically appointed Board of Governors and the meddling Congress and you have a corporation with world-wide capabilities with a ready-made workforce. If it were a private company, it would be #35 on the Fortunate 500 list.

We would just have to come up with something else to call all those people who go all fed exal when they are mad.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

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Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

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FiveThirtyEight

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Balloon Juice

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Scott Adams' Blog

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The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

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