Why the Postal Service Is Doomed

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 19 2013 2:39 PM

Here's Why the Postal Service Is Doomed

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The Postal Service is supposed to fund its activities out of a lucrative monopoly on daily mail delivery, but that's getting much less lucrative.

Photo by John Gress/Getty Images

Conservatives often wrongly caricature the United States Postal Service as somehow inefficient or poorly managed, while liberals are very focused on the idea that pension accounting rules make USPS look bad. But the truth about the Postal Service is very simple—it's supposed to fund its activities out of a lucrative monopoly on daily mail delivery, and that's getting much less lucrative.

Consider this telling incident from Jia Tolentino's interview with "Mike the Mailman" (emphasis added):

Jia: Everyone in our neighborhood calls you “Mike the mailman.” Do you think of yourself as Mike the mailman when you’re off the job?
Mike: Well, I’m not Mike the mailman at home, but I do see myself as a sort of catalyst for the community. I meet the new people who move in first, and I can tell them if other people might be interested in meeting them, if other people have kids their age. There are some people I check in on, like this elderly gentleman who lives alone. He’s always doing his thing—on Tuesday he dusts—but I just think it’s important that someone’s looking out for him.
And the neighborhood has been so sweet to me after this surgery. I’ve been getting a lot of emails.
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That's how people communicate with me, too! And everyone else is the same way.

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