CIVIL RELIGION

Read the comments (and the editorial, which is almost as bad) to learn that the USPS should be eliminated so the free market (UPS, FedEx, etc.) can do the job better, cheaper, and more efficiently.

Makes perfect sense, right? The free market does everything better! Which is why the USPS already subcontracts express deliveries to FedEx, and FedEx relies on the USPS to carry the majority of its domestic packages because they can't do it themselves cost effectively.

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37 Responses to “CIVIL RELIGION”

  1. mojidoji Says:

    I love this little gem from the comments:

    "Unions are FOR PROFIT organizations that pay their people 6 figure salaries to go out and dupe the unsofisticated"

    FOR PROFIT = bad

    …got it…

  2. don homer Says:

    This debt ceiling nonsense has me in a vindictive mood, but maybe we should eliminate the USPS, at least in terms of its service requirements? Maybe rural / red areas need to understand just how much of their lifestyle is subsidized by the rest of us.

  3. Monkey Business Says:

    I would love for the Federal government to correct the imbalance between what states contribute versus what states receive in terms of tax revenues. Namely, no state can receive more in tax revenues than it has contributed.

    We'll see how "taxed enough already" the Red states are when the Blue states' largesse dries up.

  4. ladiesbane Says:

    Yeah, the way DHL was a huge success story here in the U.S…until 2009.

    I know they think everyone (who counts) has email, makes all financial transactions online, etc., but isn't this another thing that could alienate their elderly followers? I'm thinking of my older colleagues who do own computers, but who also print emails so their secretaries can scan them to files.

  5. Osric! Says:

    The Post office is probably the best federal agency ever, it costs the tax payer nothing but what its services cost, oh and it can send mail to post office boxes, how clever!

  6. Technogeek Says:

    Last time I checked, it was also cheaper to send packages via USPS than UPS or FedEx so long as the shipment wasn't time-sensitive.

  7. Bob Says:

    The private companies all skim the most lucretive parts of what the USPS does, leaving the bills, junk mail and other money losers to the USPS.

  8. acer Says:

    @don homer:
    I've said it before: Take the "libertarian wing" and ship them all to Teabagistan (f/k/a Alaska), make Paul "You Hurt My Fee-Fees" Ryan their king, and let them have their little Randian paradise, complete with for-profit garbage collection. Then fence off the border.

  9. Middle Seaman Says:

    Priority Mail, 2-3 days delivery, cost from $5 to $12 (or just about). Try to get FedEx or UPS to match these numbers. It's about twice at least.

    It's one of the myriad of fronts of the war of the oligarchs against the American people. Union's stuff is paid very little, while employing people who are exceedingly bright, motivated, hard working and work 16 hours a day six days a week. Most of these guys can command ten times as much in the "private sector."

    Are our big banks private? Are health insurance companies making money or stealing it? Banks live on the dole and health insurance companies should have eliminated 20 years ago; we all subsidize them. Defense contractor are not private; they deceive the DOD. ETC.

    We have to go out and protest and not necessarily non-violently.

  10. don homer Says:

    @acer, you've got my vote.

  11. The Man, The Myth Says:

    The US Postal Service is the cheapest bang for the buck in the world world. Sending mail in EU is much more expensive than 1st class in the US. The only area I may admit is my disdain is junk mail – everyday people fill my mailbox up with crap from organizations begging for money & catalogs for crap I don't want or need. This is likely costing tax payers mucho money. If we could have a "no-junk mail" list I would sign up for it and save the Post Office from delivering the stuff I throw in the waste basket.

  12. Elder Futhark Says:

    Clearly, libraries need to be brought under control as well (weaselspeak for privtaized). Only then can we return to those ancient golden times when Conservatives Ruled the Earth. Rarrr!

  13. PWL Says:

    And while we're at it, let's just do away with the U.S. Govt entirely, and sell the country to the corporations! There, won't that make everything better?

  14. Surly Duff Says:

    To this day, it never ceases to amaze me that regular folk are so quick to throw its peers under the bus because of the premise "Since I don't have mine, you shouldn't have your either".

    A significant number of comments in that article were fuck those greedy, lazy postal workers. They are making too much anyway. Really? We are at the point that we are directing our anger at the salaries and benefits of the fucking postman?

  15. garry Says:

    @PWL: check out the novel "Jennifer Government" sometime. very entertaining look at where that could lead.

  16. Darby Witherspoon Says:

    I used to manage a shipping department for a small family operation and as such dealt directly with USPS and UPS on a daily basis and Fedex on bad days. (around here they don't even get off the truck, they just chuck the boxes in the general direction of the house as they drive by.)

    Both USPS and UPS were great for over-all service and cost effectiveness. USPS is good for small stuff, UPS for bigger packages. Cost is almost completely dependent on gas prices. In fact, the shipping industry functions as an economic watchdog. If the couriers are doing poorly, that means business is dropping off across the board, and the speculation machine that is American capitalism kicks into high gear.

    The biggest problem I ever had was the franchise side of UPS (the UPS Store) who eventually stopped accepting our business because "we were the wrong kind of people" (pagan/non-christian).

  17. Mistergizmo Says:

    I frequently get packages that are sent via UPS/FEDEX but delivered "the last mile" by the Postal Service. It works, because it takes advantage of the best capabilities of each. The mail carrier has to go to individual houses every day anyway, so taking along some packages when he/she does is a natural. UPS and FEDEX are optimized for large volume users, so giving them a point-to-point job is also a natural. Privatizing the Postal Service would result in higher costs all around, and I really don't think UPS or FEDEX would want to take it on.

  18. Southern Beale Says:

    Yes the Free Market does everything better, shinier, cheaper, sparklier except when it DOESN'T and no one ever bothers to ask that particular question because we've internalized the talking point.

    Again.

    *SIGH*

  19. Elder Futhark Says:

    rrr-Rarr!

    (Sorry, I just cracked myself up with that).

  20. Zeb Says:

    One of the other great ironies of the anti-union, pro-privatization comments on that article is that UPS is largely unionized (at least in California and I think in many other states).

    FedEx, which has in my experience been terrible and has worse on-time delivery statistics, is non-union. As usual, unions do it better.

  21. Mark B Says:

    Ed, I am puzzled why you chose this instance to 1) give any kind of credence to web page commenters who don't understand the transportation industry (not to mention a wide range of other subjects); 2) why you are maligning FedEx in particular – I must have missed something on this in the comments.

    The editorial author's use of "I don't need it so I shouldn't have to pay for it," fails to surprise me. It's the same typical libertarian rubbish that we've been hearing for years. Honestly, I haven't the patience to read 36 pages of mind numbing drivel (if you did it Ed, kudos!). I'm probably one of the first people to get upset about the greed of private industry and "the free market knows best!" nonsense, but I'm kind of surprised that no one has addressed the non-competitive nature of the USPS and the courier services (FedEx/UPS/DHL/Etc.).

    USPS and FedEx actually fulfill different customer needs and, thus, different pieces of the transportation industry. The post office is ideal for basic, affordable, non time-sensitive, non recurring correspondence – the majority of all mail. Courier service is ideal for larger or unusual packages, bulk deliveries, recurring & time-sensitive deliveries, HAZMAT, and anything else that needs special attention. Nether service is capable of performing all that the other offers and it wouldn't be profitable for either to rework their entire infrastructures to try.

    With the notable exception of all the paid advertising (it does keep the service affordable though), USPS provides a valuable service to our nation and its employees earned their pensions. I can also tell you that as a Soldier, USPS is indispensable to those of us currently overseas and deployed. The postal service does a great job and I wouldn't trade them for a private cut-rate stand in. FedEx and UPS don't provide service in Afghanistan, but USPS is there for us.

    So let's talk FedEx for a moment:

    I'm also a FedEx Express employee and this company has been nothing but good to me since day one. I can't speak for the other FedEx companies, but Express picks up and delivers ALL of our own packages – I've known couriers who've driven hundreds of miles to reach extremely rural deliveries. FedEx domestic service is otherwise not provided in-conjunction with USPS. The FedEx drop boxes placed at your local post office are serviced by a FedEx courier only – the postal service has no access to these boxes. And if your local courier isn't delivering your packages in person, please call and complain – that douche bag who throws packages out of his truck is letting us all down. We work hard to develop good relationships with our customers and you are paying a premium for personal service!

    FedEx Express (which is one of the world's largest airlines) does provide air transportation for priority mail for the USPS. It is an extremely efficient and cost effective system (as much as an airline can be – fuel costs what it costs after all), which is why USPS chose us as their contractor. It was effective enough that the company didn't have to lay off anyone during the worst of the recession while remaining a profitable company. Benefits didn't disappear and management willingly took a pay cut to prevent any change to compensation for their employees (both full- and part-time are offered a full benefits package). While this company will make you work, they have been fair to me and my family. I can't name too many other major corporations who are half as good to their rank and file employees as FedEx is.

    And as far as UPS goes, they wear brown for a reason. ;)

  22. Xynzee Says:

    Why privatise the USPS? Because you can't buy and trade it on Wall Street.

    Something that these Religious types fail to realise is that part of the reason the USPS can do its job so well is that it has global reach without infrastructure. And I do mean *everywhere*. Want to get a letter into the PNG highlands? USPS. And the USPS doesn't even have to have a plane or its own person go. And that letter you want to send to PNG will cost you?? About the same as to the UK, Japan or Liberia.

    Ask Fed-UPS do to do that.

    So how can the lowly USPS do this amazing thing? The USPS has agreements with all of the other national carriers to deliver the mail from each other's country.

    Fed-UPS doesn't have such agreements.

    Hmmm… There's your sobering angle for the right-wing nut jobs w a religious bent. Start telling them that the killing off of the USPS is the Devil's work. I'm being serious. Seed in their minds how the USPS allows missionaries to function in Africa, PNG etc. Tell them the story of the missionary in the PNG highlands w/o electricity and therefore *no* Internet. They rely upon letters from their home churches for encouragement to do the Lord's work, and they need Bibles. So everytime it comes up in conversation mutter how the politician in question is in liege w Satan for the reasons above.

    At the very least the polli will have to answer some very sticky questions and you could hamstring them enough come 2012. Have fun with that.

  23. Darby Witherspoon Says:

    @ Xynzee: I once shipped a package via USPS for a customer in Kenya or there about and the address was literally something like: 5 km downriver from 3rd hut on the left. Got there fine.

  24. Darby Witherspoon Says:

    *should read: 5 km downriver from (village)…

    i guess pointy brackets don't work :/

  25. HoosierPoli Says:

    There are some public services that are worth providing, even at a loss. Why would anyone not grasp this?

  26. Robet Says:

    Reminds me of Bierce in "Devil's Dictionary", defining 'cui bono' as Latin for
    'what good would that do ME?'

  27. blahedo Says:

    What kills me about the "private services are more efficient" argument as a general argument is how obviously false it is on its face—if you contract the work out, then you need to pay the cost of the work *and* add profit to the mix.

  28. Caleb Says:

    With all due respect, this post illustrates a rather severe misunderstanding of basic economic principles.

    If FedEx contracts with USPS to carry its domestic freight, this does not mean that FedEx cannot carry domestic freight cost effectively. All it means is that the marginal benefit to FedEx of subcontracting to USPS outweighs the opportunity cost of establishing and maintaining its own domestic freight distribution network. This might not have anything to do with the relative efficiencies of the two organizations. It could be that FedEx found a more profitable outlet for its resources, and it happy to pay USPS a premium so FedEx can maintain their domestic service without any capital outlay. Look up "comparative advantage" for the applicable theory.

    Even if USPS is distributing domestic freight at a lower cost than FedEx could provide, this is still not dispositive. You have to look at overall costs of each system relative to the benefits they provide. Yes USPS has a vast distribution network. But it is currently running a ~$7 billion/year deficit. Whatever cost-saving USPS provides to FedEx isn't covered in high productivity or efficiency, it is absorbed into their rather large financial shortfalls. (Currently being funded by T-bills issued on VERY generous terms.)

    In short, I see no way in which the facts you cite prove anything close to your implied premise that USPS is a more efficient organization than private mail carriers.

  29. Mike Says:

    One of the main arguments for USPS is that it delivers everywhere in the United States. This probably mattered when the United States was still a vaguely cohesive union of states. Honestly, at this point, I don't really care if people in rural bumfuck can get packages delivered to them.

  30. blondie Says:

    The USPS is a wonderful agency — providing valuable services for very little expense. Privatizing it would only increase the costs of mailing. Additionally, I think arguing that "nobody" uses the mail anymore is a rather privileged argument. Unless anyone without computer/internet access is simply worthless.

    Shall we abolish or privatize free, lending libraries as well? Let's make all roads toll roads, maybe begin charging for police* and fire** protection. Perhaps we should all simply admit that merit = wealth. /snarksob

    *gated communities &/or private security
    **has already happened in some places

  31. Jose Jacobo Says:

    I was under the impression that the USPS used to turn a profit until someone had the bright idea that we should make it operate as though it were a private corporation.

  32. Caleb Says:

    @blondie

    What makes you say that privatizing would increase the costs of mailing? The cost of operating a fleet of trucks, drivers, distribution systems, ect are fixed. It costs X dollars to deliver any given package from point A to point B regardless of who runs the system. The question is one of overhead, efficiency incentives, and of who ultimately pays for cost overruns.

    No one questions that the USPS gives some value to some people. Hell, we could have a system in place that sells mandated pet spa treatments for below market price to everyone in the US. I guarantee, some people would be better off. The question isn't whether some people benefit from the government mandate; the question is whether it is worth it overall.

    @ Jose

    The USPS turned a profit until the services they provided dropped significantly relative to their cost outlays. Nothing significant in their operating procedures changed (that I'm aware of) other than the 2006 law, which mandated that they prepay their retirement benefits. (Something no private corp would voluntarily undergo.)

    Again, I'm not seeing how the facts as established in any way support the superiority of USPS or any government enterprise by virtue of it being a government enterprise.

  33. blondie Says:

    To Caleb. This is pretty elementary — when you assume the costs are fixed, which you do, altering an enterprise from not-for-profit to private, i.e., for profit, requires an increase to pay for the profit. The rest of your post is straw man goofiness.

    p.s. This'll really make you steam — there's no such thing as a free market, pal, not at these macroeconomic levels. So using words like "market price" is inapt, at best.

  34. Caleb Says:

    @ blondie

    Profits are not costs, they are the difference between revenue and costs. Costs are fixed for any given level of output for any given system. What you are saying, I assume, is that the price level would go up if the USPS privatized. This is not necessarily the case. You ignore the other possibility: output levels could go down. Downsizing the operation would increase marginal productivity of every remaining resource employed, which would cover the profit margin.

    I'd like to know why the rest of my post was a straw man. I used a hypothetical analogy to illustrate the absurdity of the claim that universally mandated service and price levels inherently provide overall social value. I'm not saying anyone is advocating mandated pet grooming services. I'm saying that the concept is the same.

    I'm also well aware that there is no perfectly free market; especially in this country. I never said there was. However, that does not mean that the concepts are useless. Like in physics: there is no such thing in real life as a infinite, perfectly homogeneous plane with zero friction. Yet, we use this hypothetical construct to illustrate the basic laws of physics. Similarly, simply because no perfectly free market exists does not mean that the principles do not apply. The concept of a "market price" is quite apt in numerous situations, and is used extensively and daily in many aspects of modern life.

  35. Bob Says:

    @ Caleb: Your response appears to carry with it two assumptions regarding a privatized approach to mail delivery vs. the current USPS approach. The first assumption is there exists at least one private company willing to carry everything the post office presently carries at something approaching current cost levels. In other words, as an example FedEx really wants to bring me the PennySaver, Coupon offers and utility bills every day. It’s meaningless to say they would deliver such things but at something approaching true cost. That’s just another way of saying the system will eliminate such mailings in short order. There is no point in privatizing yet requiring them to keep the current pricing model; no company would bid on such.
    The second, and far more troubling assumption is that everything in our daily life has to come down to profit. So what if the last house on the last road in rural Idaho desperately depends on the post office for basic communication? Let the private market handle it. If such people see their costs skyrocket that’s too bad. If they lose the service, tough shit. I’m middle class – I could get by without the USPS easily enough but everything isn’t about me anymore than it is about the profit motive. I have friends who drift in and out of homelessness; friends who are working poor living in 5th floor walkups. Trust me – they have a vastly different view of this issue than you do and they too are American citizens who at least in theory possess some rights.
    Is there value in seeing to it such people have a method of communication available to them? Yes. Does it enter your equation anywhere? No.
    Please stop reducing EVERTHING to a cost-benefit ratio where only dollars count.

  36. Caleb Says:

    @ Bob, re: the two assumptions

    1: I make no such assumption. In fact, I predict the opposite: the hypothetical private mail carrier would probably increase price levels to the point where a good number of bulk mailings (coupons, unsolicited ad mailings, the yellow pages, ect.) would likely become unprofitable. Likewise, other regular subscription mailings (your utility bill, bank statement, newspapers, ect.) would likely attempt to shift costs by encouraging a switch to a lower priced medium; probably the internet.

    I do not deny that privatization would likely lead to higher up front prices and reduced output levels and volume. The question is not the result, but the desirability of the result. Is it really worth it to have full time professional mail carriers deliver bulk rate ads, coupons, and other unsolicited material; most of which goes straight into the trash? Is it productive to have the artificially high price levels of high demand services (and currently, our own Treasury Dept.) finance the delivery of material that neither sender nor recipient would voluntarily pay for if the price reflected the cost? If not, then where is the harm in a profit driven model?

    2: It is you who make an unwarranted assumption here. Namely: you assume that accessibility of low-income persons to a system necessitates the maintenance of a universal supply and price structure in that system. This is far from true. Consider the food supply: We as a nation recognize that persons of a certain income level and below cannot engage with the profit-driven system of food suppliers and obtain an adequate amount of food. Is our response to set up a a government-backed monopoly where prices for each product are universal and fixed across the nation? Thank God, no. Instead, we rely on a mix of private charity and public vouchers to give the poor the purchasing power they need. Explain why the mail need be any different.

    Does giving the poor access to communications have some value? Yes. Does it have infinite value? No. Therefore, we must make trade-offs to obtain the optimal level of production. Those trade-offs achieve maximum efficiency when viewed from a cost-benefit perspective. The costs and the benefits are best discovered when voluntarily revealed by the persons affected by the trade-off, rather than by those insulated from the effects. If you know of a better way of maximizing value in society, please by all means let me know.