In “Going Postal in the Digital Era”, John Nicols of the Nation discusses some of the problems facing the US postal service and the inadequacy of Democratic party responses. In particular, Nichols laments the inability of Democrats to stand up against neoliberal attempts to privatize all of government.

In fact, from the work of Dean Baker cited in that article, it sounds to me like the current crisis of the post office might be largely another neoliberal concoction. A few accounting errors and suddenly the post office appears insolvent. Now inappropriately extrapolate those accounting errors out 10 years and the insolvency appears to reach hundreds of billions of dollars. Combine those accounting errors with a prudent, but unfortunately timed, Congressional requirement for the postal service to adequately fund pension obligations and the problem is compounded.

As a Green Party candidate I am concerned about the private waste of resources which we largely use to fund our postal service. The endless piles of spam that arrive in the mail each day places a strain on the Earth’s resources, but all of that bulk mail does allow the post office to continue to reach its equitability and universality goals.

Instead of another privatization give-away to the corporate oligarchs, we should instead consider reclaiming the post office and more thoroughly socializing the institution. Few Americans seem to understand why we have socialized services anymore so I have outlined the reasons here. The post office – which is socialized explicitly in the US Constitution – falls under the category of elective socialized industries. In other words, there is nothing natural or inherent about a monopoly in postal deliver, but the adopters of the US Constitution (persuaded by Ben Franklin and others), were convinced that equitable and universal access to such a service was crucial for the prosperity and general welfare of the People.

To preserve such an integral and long-standing piece of our Federal government we might consider many somewhat drastic responses if this turns out to not be merely a neoliberal sham.

  • Significantly increasing the rate for junk mail where mail a customer requests or of a 501(c)3 of 501(c)4 nature would be exempt from the higher postal rates. That would mean all of the solicitations which represent an enormous waste of resources, and typically end up immediately in the trash, would now pay a greater share of the costs of postal delivery. Junk mail costs significantly less than a standard letter, but for many classes of junk mail it would be appropriate to provide only a few cents off of the letter rate rather than merely a fraction of the letter rate. Even at those rates, commercial direct-mail advertising would still be lucrative but with less of the free ride it has been getting.
  • Eliminate UPS, FedEx and other private corporations that have cherry-picked the most profitable pieces of the postal service to reap their own private rewards. If the postal service were granted exclusive access to these deliveries this would further bring the postal service into the black.
  • In response to the proliferation of internet options, we might eventually consider moving mail deliveries to every-other day except for priority and express mail. In this way the same routes could be covered by half the personnel, half the number of vehicles, and a fraction of the fuel needed for daily delivery. We could even add Sunday deliveries while drastically containing the costs. Any route would thus be on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule or a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday with routes also gaining service every other Sunday.

This would go a long way toward closing the budget deficit for the postal service, without directly burdening taxpayers who do not directly need the service. It would also force the private junk – mail advertisers to pay more of their fair – share of the social costs of the waste they create. I would not be outright opposed to taxpayer subsidies of the postal service or other Federal monopolies, but I would have to be convinced of the reasons for doing so. However, it looks to me that we can easily cover the funding issues of the post office by simply reasserting the Federal control over this monopoly and forcing the more wasteful uses of the service to pay their fair share.

In contrast, the neoliberal approach is to first cherry-pick the most profitable portions of government provided monopoly services, declare the remaining parts insolvent, and then declares they have proven government is a failure. In the case of the US postal service this would mean that the services provided by the monopoly postal service established in the US Constitution – including universal access – would be surrendered to the corporatist neoliberals.