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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, September 14, 2011}

Image taken by User:Minesweeper on December 14...

(Image taken by User:Minesweeper, photo credit: Wikipedia)

The patient is dying. Sometimes breathing with great difficulty, other times thrashing about in agony, it is time to dispense with heroic measures. We should let the Postal Service go gently into that good night.

The latest frantic attempt to apply the defibrillators comes in response to embarrassing revelations that sometime this year, according to the postmaster general, the USPS will run out of money. Cost-saving measures include closing post offices, laying off workers and ending Saturday delivery. “Nurse, this patient has cancer. Get me a Band-aid STAT!”

Some Ivy-League Congressional staffer will undoubtedly propose changing the rules that USPS operates under, or providing direct subsidies. Blood transfusions for a patient in cardiac arrest.

The Postal Service has a long and venerable tradition as an American institution, but its time has come. In an age of email and instantaneous communication, the fundamental premise of the Postal Service no longer makes sense. I wonder sometimes if it ever did.

The USPS is a curious thing. On the one hand, it enjoys a monopoly on the delivery of first-class mail, through a series of 150-year-old laws known as the Private Express Statutes. On the other hand, it is required by Congress to deliver letters to all Americans, regardless of where they live and regardless of cost, for one price. This means mail customers in cities are forced to subsidize customers who live in the country. Not to mention the poverty-stricken denizens of Hawaii.

Why is that a good thing? How exactly is that in the public interest? There are some strong economic benefits to living in cities, and plenty of costs associated with living in rural areas. Why shouldn’t people who want to live out in the boonies take some responsibility for that decision?

This strange regulatory environment that the USPS operates in is woefully outdated in the 21st Century. And how much of its product do people even want?

I saved all my mail for the past week. Out of 41 pieces, 31 went straight to the trash (about 90 percent of my mail by weight). The remaining 10, less than 25 percent of my mail, qualified as something that I at least was willing to look at. These numbers are consistent with the Postal Service’s own data on increasing volumes of bulk mail. If present trends continue, in 10 years the Postal Service will be America’s first trash-delivery company.

Repealing the postal monopoly and opening it up to competition would produce exactly the same benefits that markets always produce, provided they’re actually permitted to work. The delivery of mail will get more efficient, better and cheaper, even for people in rural areas. Believe it or not, the best evidence for this comes from Europe, normally a bastion of socialist thinking. Almost three-fourths of Germany’s postal service is privately owned, along with all of the Netherlands’. New Zealand and Sweden have repealed their postal monopolies.

None of them go as far as complete deregulation, but none of them are begging their legislatures for help either.

I understand the image of the letter carrier is ingrained in American popular culture. I understand there are lots of compelling stories than can be told by people who support the status quo. I know it is sad when old things pass away.

But one way or another, the Postal Service must pass on into the Great Beyond for Government Programs That Are No Longer Necessary. Not because the USPS is one of America’s most severe problems. Far from it.

The Postal Service must go because it is a bellwether for something much greater. If the political will required to cut something as senseless as the postal monopoly can be stymied by a Norman Rockwell painting, then we have no hope for tackling entitlements or the national debt, and no hope for getting America back on a track of freedom, growth, and prosperity.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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