Up above the famed Manhattan Post Office are carved those famous words, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” which is derived from the ancient historian Herodotus. That people today do not even know about Herodotus much that there is a motto of the US Post Office/Postal Service says something.
The romantic image of the devoted letter carrier is all but dust. Kevin Costner was the last to invoke it and destroy it. Today, it is the poster boy for arthritic federal government, losing vast sums of public money while delivering less service at a higher cost.
Both the romantic version and the cynical were wrestling as the Senate approves changes for the U.S. Postal Service - The Washington Post.
Between the nostalgia of old left and the pipe dreams of the new right lies reality, of course. Yes, the system is not working, but it is not entirely due to government folly. Fifty years ago the postal service was like the phone company, the only game in town. Yes, there was Railway Express (anyone remember that?) but if you wanted to send information you had three choices – telegraph, telephone, and mail. Each of them cost money. You chose based on urgency and cost.
Today, much of the information the post office postal service carried is mostly done electronically. First class and priority mail volume is down between 15% and 30% over the last decade. Advertising revenue is slightly lower as well. You can check out the stats yourself at their own website.
Where it was once the first and foremost means of sending information it is now the last and least means. And for some market purists that means it is time to cut it loose and let it die, like Railway Express.
I sincerely believe we need a postal service. But how to do that? I have a thought. You knew I would, otherwise why write all this stuff.
How about we charge for email? We have to affix a stamp to letters, well why not a tiny charge – .1 of a cent say – on the 247 billion emails sent each day all over the world. Even if only 10% of those were US generated, that would yield $250 million a day. The Postal Service could recoup its losses in less than two months.
I know we love our free email, but what if a small cost could assure we always had good postal service when we needed it, sort of like gasoline taxes that make sure roads are repaired.
How much would it cost the average user, though? Well, a .1 of a cent per message, that would mean you would have to send more than 450 email messages a day to equal one first class stamp. Even if you sent only 45 a day it would be less than a nickel. Is it worth $18.25 a year to preserve postal service?