To Make the Postal Service More Like a Private Shipping Company, Turn It Into One

A blog about business and economics.
June 29 2012 8:31 AM

To Make the Postal Service More Like a Private Shipping Company, Turn It Into One

Richard Layman thinks a lot of the post offices we have around D.C. are underutilized spaces and wonders how to bring more life to them:

So it got me thinking about how to reposition post offices to be business centers, even shared office type spaces, to make them more relevant in the 21st century as people use email more and more instead of the mail (but not for packages and documents that need to be signed).

But think about how UPS services were integrated into the company now called the UPS Store but was once called Mailboxes Etc. or how Kinkos (now FedExOffice) is "the branch office" for so many people needing access to printing and computing services.
Advertisement

There's a lot that's hard about postal reform, but this is easy. If the goal is to make the U.S. Postal Service like UPS or Federal Express, what you need to do is make it a private parcel delivery company. That would mean repealing the Universal Service Obligation requiring it to deliver mail everywhere at a flat rate, repeal the monopoly on daily mail delivery, rescind the unusual accounting rules around postal pensions, and either sell the Postal Service to private investors or turn it into a worker-owned cooperative. Bam. Problem solved.

The problem is that this wouldn't  solve the problem that the USPS is actually supposed to solve, which is how do we guarantee cheap mail to people who live in low-density areas. The traditional answer to this has been to create a monopoly provider of daily mail service to urban areas and then require the monopoly provider to use its metropolitan profits to subsidize rural delivery. That monopoly-and-cross-subsidy model of public service delivery is an old-fashioned one, but it works as long as the monopoly is genuinely lucrative. The problem is that technological change has made urban daily mail less and less lucrative while the cost of guaranteeing cheap mail in rural communities remains high. If we decide that this isn't really a problem we care about, then everything else gets easy.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?