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A New Postal Service Model?
June 4, 2011 11:35 AM   Subscribe

Is the US Postal Service nearing collapse?

"The Kentucky letter carrier is stoic about his scrapes. Some things about his job are eternal. Others are changing rapidly. He carries a lot more of what he calls "standard mail." "Civilians call it junk mail," Rice says, joking. "We don't like that term. We call it job security."
posted by beisny (156 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
This again? Who is pushing this story?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:40 AM on June 4, 2011 [24 favorites]


Hmmm, I want to send this story to my dad, but I'm out of printer paper and stamps. If only there was some other way.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:44 AM on June 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


TwelveTwo,
We should follow the money. Who is waiting in the wings to privatize the USPS?
posted by wuwei at 11:46 AM on June 4, 2011 [45 favorites]


Elsewhere in the world, postal services are grappling with the same dilemma—only most of them, in humbling contrast, are thriving.

Yes, how nice. Elsewhere in the world, many of those postal services are also serving areas which are, in humbling contrast, half the size of Montana. With forty times the population density.
posted by vorfeed at 11:47 AM on June 4, 2011 [24 favorites]


A business model which involves delivering things people do not want to their mailboxes is not sustainable.
posted by unSane at 11:47 AM on June 4, 2011 [40 favorites]


Why is it a business? It is a governmental feature.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:49 AM on June 4, 2011 [38 favorites]


A business model which involves delivering things people do not want to their mailboxes is not sustainable.

Especially when the business isn't allowed to charge enough to cover the costs.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:50 AM on June 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why not raise the price they charge to deliver junk mail? Either they'd make more money or I'd get less crap I don't want in the mailbox. Win-win.
posted by EarBucket at 11:52 AM on June 4, 2011 [52 favorites]


Why is it a business? It is a governmental feature.

It's a waste of taxes to support at a loss an institution which is sending 1 piece of useful mail for every 20 or 30 pieces of junk. If my former college wants to beg me for money or bed bath and beyond wants to tell me there's a sale on, they can use FedEx or fuck themselves, I don't care which.
posted by Diablevert at 11:53 AM on June 4, 2011 [37 favorites]


...Herr and his team concluded that the postal service's business model was so badly broken that collapse was imminent.

Business model? Posting mail is one of the core services of any government, and in the United States, explicitly enumerated as one of the powers of Congress in the Constitution. When is this bullshit going to end?

At least there is W.A.S.T.E. to fall back on when USPS gets privatized and sold to Thurn und Taxis.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:53 AM on June 4, 2011 [47 favorites]


In Canada the postal service is currently running rotating strikes and may completely shut down next week if talks collapse -- facing the same issues as the US system, Canada Post has tried to modernize its operations and cut benefits, provoking backlash from the carriers. A similar strike occurred in 1997 and they were legislated back to work after two weeks. This time around most of the editorials in papers are of the laughing "who even uses the mail anymore?", and the suspicion is that since the Canada Post union has already agreed to keep delivering benefits cheques to seniors and those on welfare in the event of a total strike, the govt will probably let the strike go on until the union breaks.
posted by modernnomad at 11:53 AM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do we need to have this entire thread over again? The mail service does so much more then send you junk mail.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:54 AM on June 4, 2011 [17 favorites]


A business model which involves delivering things people do not want to their mailboxes is not sustainable.

Spam and the targeted ad business are thriving - the basic premise is sound, but there are faster, more effective methods of delivering what people do not want now.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:55 AM on June 4, 2011


A business model which involves delivering things people do not want to their mailboxes is not sustainable.

The rest of the Advertising Industry is using that business model very successfully. Of course, they're also the same people subsidized by the USPS's 'junk mail' rates.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:55 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


For Americans and Canadians in this thread: this is one of those things that we are going to regret losing, and make no mistake, there is a good chance we will lose mail entirely. Enjoy dealing with private couriers once they no longer have to compete with a service that is required by law to provide a certain standard of service equally to everyone.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:00 PM on June 4, 2011 [51 favorites]


"It's a waste of taxes to support at a loss an institution which is sending 1 piece of useful mail for every 20 or 30 pieces of junk."

Not true.

USPS receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.
posted by webhund at 12:01 PM on June 4, 2011 [47 favorites]


"Elsewhere in the world, postal services are grappling with the same dilemma—only most of them, in humbling contrast, are thriving."

Hardly.
posted by webhund at 12:04 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


FedEx & UPS  wish  bought a story.

FedEx & UPS are unhappy about the USPS's "ad supported" undercutting of their shipping rates. Amazon, eBay, etc. should quietly hire investigators to out the payola driving this anti-USPS bullshit.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:04 PM on June 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


USPS receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

Which is nice, if it gets enough from doing that to completely fund itself. Thing is, if it doesn't make enough that way, it should be supplemented with tax dollars. Because it is essential that have a functioning, non-private mail system - so essential that it was specifically written into the Constitution that the Government run one, and that Congress specifically has the power to levy taxes to pay for it.
posted by kafziel at 12:05 PM on June 4, 2011 [25 favorites]


It's a waste of taxes to support...

Besides the fact that the USPS isn't funded by taxes, everyone can claim that there is something that is a "waste of taxes". But it's one of the things you compromise on when you agree to live in a civilization like this, sometimes the government will fund things you don't like or use. But they will also fund things you do like or use. That isn't to say don't complain about excesses, but when we're talking services that impact nearly everyone, that's another story.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:06 PM on June 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


"recieves no tax dollars" is technically true but they currently have an 8 Billion dollar deficit and are going to need to be bailed out pretty soon. This whole idea that Congress can set the price of the mail yet not subsidize the postal system is a crock. IT IS NOT A BUSINESS IT IS A SERVICE. Sorry for being so shouty but every thread about the postal service goes the same way "I only get junk in my mailbox so lets just junk the whole system because my tax dollars....blah fucking blah..."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:07 PM on June 4, 2011 [24 favorites]


Diablevert Interesting fact, in most rural areas FedEx delivers by sending through the USPS. http://fedex.com/us/smart-post/outbound.html

They only deliver directly in larger population centers, because they'd go broke trying to deliver in smaller areas.

Which is why the Constitution makes the postal service a government function, unless the price per message is outrageous it really doesn't work as a for profit business, not if you want to deliver to absolutely anyone.
posted by sotonohito at 12:07 PM on June 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


If the post office only carries junk mail and is ready to go out of business, why are all my private-carrier packages from online merchants using the post office for the last mile these days?
posted by immlass at 12:09 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree- flattening the rate structure for non-parcel post is a good start. I'm not sure that's going to happen, since bulk mail is a big customer for the USPS.

Thanks to the bastards at Prime Mail (mail order pharmacy I am forced to use by my insurance co), I found out that there is a new style of mailing business in the US. Streamlite is one. Instead of handing your bulk mail to the USPS at the origin point, a Streamlite van picks it up, freights it to a post office near the destination, and THEN they put a stamp on it and the USPS delivers it. Apparently, they can do it at a lower price than the USPS if the sender doesn't mind the slightly longer delivery time.

So, I guess that means that the USPS could be more efficient at its job.
posted by gjc at 12:09 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


While we're at it let's defund the Department of Defense, that thing has been running at a huge loss
posted by jtron at 12:10 PM on June 4, 2011 [92 favorites]


The problem with "who even uses the mail anymore?" should be obvious: internet shoppers do. And if the postal service stops or gets significantly more expensive, much of internet shopping will go away, as individual sellers abandon the field to Amazon, Walmart.com, and other companies which can afford to buy container ships worth of merchandise and sell out of giant warehouses via UPS.

In short: hope you didn't enjoy having indie records, non-mainstream books, Threadless shirts, used stuff on Ebay, etc, because affordable and ubiquitous mail service makes the creation and/or sale of those kinds of things viable. Without the mail, the means of production and transfer of non-digital goods will move even further into the hands of the few.
posted by vorfeed at 12:11 PM on June 4, 2011 [48 favorites]


So for those of you who want to privatize the service what do you plan to do about Alaska? Tell the people living in areas only accessible by airplane, "Too bad it costs $100.00 to send your grandson's birthday present, you should have thought about that before and moved somewhere closer?"
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:12 PM on June 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


>Enjoy dealing with private couriers once they no longer have to compete with a service that is required by law to provide a certain standard of service equally to everyone.

Private couriers aren't allowed to compete for mail delivery now. No need to wait for the mail system to go under for that.

If people want to send stuff via genuine U.S.P. S. they're simply going to have to pay more, either directly via postage rate hike, or indirectly via general tax revenue subsidy. Though it's kind of crazy to expect the service to survive at the expense of the collective, especially when mail is diminishing in importance every day.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:14 PM on June 4, 2011



USPS receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.


As the article discusses, that method of support is no longer sufficient, and as early as the end of this year, the service will require either that laws be rewritten so that it no longer has to set aside so much money to cover future health care costs, or that that it be given several billion dollars of tax money to keep going.

There does not appear to me to be any particular reason to assume that the $5.5 billion is not going to be needed for health care costs. It's certainly a complex question to answer and lots of people are trying to come up with ways to stem the tide of rising health care cost, but for the past 20 years they have failed. It appears to me that the only reason to remove this requirement is to make the Post Offices' budget pass muster in the here an now, not because the money won't be needed. When that need does arise --- and I am emphatically not in favor of screwing over retired post officer workers, by all means we should make sure they get what's been promised to them --- it'll be tax dollar that cover it.

What I'm not in favor of is pretending that there's going to come a day when the switch is going to get un-pulled and people are going to be sending so much more first class mail the system will be able to sustain itself indefinitely. There's plenty of packages that will need to get sent. But the post office faces plenty of competition on that score; sending packages is a profitable business. But bills? Personal letters? Post card? They don't need to be physical and they're not going to be. There are people who will face difficulties in this regard. I don't think you can turn it off in a day. But ultimately the need to maintain a huge system to move information in physical packets is not there the way it used to be, and shouldn't be maintained as if it were.
posted by Diablevert at 12:14 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


When will the scandal of loss-making organizations dealing in water, sewage, transporatation, garbage, infrastructure and education be exposed?! Your tax dollars are going to fund deficits in areas which could absolutely make a profit if only they were fully privatized. Only then can best practices such as eliminating services, hiking prices and ultimately being broken up into parts for sale for profit be instituted. C'mon guys, that 1% won't get richer without our help!
posted by likeso at 12:15 PM on June 4, 2011 [20 favorites]


If the post office only carries junk mail and is ready to go out of business, why are all my private-carrier packages from online merchants using the post office for the last mile these days?

It is a form of cream skimming. The law says that the USPS is the only service that can DELIVER mail. So, other companies swoop in and take the profitable bulk mail-in-a-truck-across-the-country business away, and offload the unprofitable guys-in-wool-shorts-and-pith-helmets-wandering-the-neighborhood business to the USPS. Unfortunately, the USPS rate structure is such that it relies on the profit from the former phase of operations to subsidize the latter phase.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but I bet it is going to involve the USPS raising rates somehow. Frankly, I'd like to see them charge such drop-shipped mail from the point of origin, no matter what the point of "injection" is.
posted by gjc at 12:18 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


When will the scandal of loss-making organizations dealing in water...be exposed?!

When ads come out the faucet.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:20 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


On top of all the other crap they are dealing with, when the USPS does try to cut their losses and close down post offices that aren't doing enough business they get hit with stuff like this:
RALEIGH -- Three federal judges and several downtown businesses have joined an effort to save the historic post office on Fayetteville Street, Mayor Charles Meeker said Tuesday.

In a press conference on the steps of the 134-year-old facility, Meeker urged the U.S. Postal Service to reconsider its decision to close the postal station, housed in the historic Federal Building. The station is slated to close July 15.

“There’s plenty of time to get this thing turned around,” Meeker said.
I haven't got a clue as to how he plans to "get this thing turned around" Force everybody in Raleigh to start mailing letters from that particular post office?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:22 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't governments, by definition, run at a loss? I mean, isn't that why we pay taxes and they continually borrow from us? Even when their budget is balanced it is still primarily living off of our profits, it isn't really a transaction based relationship with the populace or even a subscription model. Governments are the organizations that run at a loss, so that their citizens can make a profit. Though as of late, it appears only some of us are citizens.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:24 PM on June 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


So for those of you who want to privatize the service what do you plan to do about Alaska? Tell the people living in areas only accessible by airplane, "Too bad it costs $100.00 to send your grandson's birthday present, you should have thought about that before and moved somewhere closer?"

According to the FedEd rate guide, to send a 2lb package ground to the lower 48 from rural Alaska, arriving within 7 days, costs $8.32. You don't break $100 -- and you're talking some really heavy fucking mittens --- until the package weighs 89 pounds, if I'm reading the table right. Frankly, even if you do have the type of grandkid that would really appreciate the rear haunch of a caribou, I suspect he'd also appreciate an Itunes gift card.

But beyond that, essesntially, yes. I don't mind maintaining some sort of skeleton service for truly remote areas. But subsidizing the second-largest workforce in the country in order to cheaply hand-deliver ads and and bills to 300 million people is silly.
posted by Diablevert at 12:27 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do we need to have this entire thread over again? The mail service does so much more then send you junk mail.

Agreed however a couple days ago I was mailing an item and in the post office I noticed a huge poster advertising a targeted direct mailing (spam) seminar.... by the Post Office.

I don't think that sending more crap to people that they do not want and cutting back on employee benefits is a good business model. Look how well that's worked out for so many 21st century businesses. It's a shot-term short thinking strategy that works for businesses where the CEO just wants to extract the wealth and get out but the USPS is in it for the long haul.

It's a government service and it's needed. If it loses money then it loses money - that's what taxes are (supposed to be) for (rather then wars and tax payouts to Boeing and G.E)
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:34 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


How to fix the USPS:

(I have no idea if this will work or not. But it would be nice.)

1- Allow FedEx, et al, to deliver to PO Boxes.

2- Create some kind of New-Zip that is a personal UUID for mail recipients. Want to change your address? Go online and change the destination. Want to change the destination for a single delivery? Go online and look in your mail queue and pick out the one you want to change. Charge accordingly- the more disruptive the change, the more it costs.

3- Create some kind of Official Electronic Mail standard. Nobody HAS to use it, but for entities and people that sign up for it, it would be trackable, traceable and sufficiently encrypted, so that citizens and senders can trust it the same (or more) than paper mail. I would venture a guess that LOTS of vendors and governments would jump at the chance to be able to send bills and unemployment letters and tax forms and so on, via a secure method. With the caveat that NO junk mail can ever be a part of the system.

4- Tack on a pay-pal-like wire-transfer service. AT&T sends me a bill, I can reply to it with my payment. Bam, done. US Treasury needs to send me my refund? Bam, done. I need to send Kevin bail money? Done. No more mucking about with routing numbers on forms.

5- Let people print first-class, paid shipping labels just like I can with Priority and Express mail.

6- Quit smashing my mail!
posted by gjc at 12:34 PM on June 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Why don't they offer, for a fee, a no-junk-mail service?
posted by Houstonian at 12:35 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just yesterday I was talking to the postman about this exact thing, because for the fifth day in a row he had nothing for me but junk mail..

Him: "Did you know we pay Fed Ex and UPS to ship stuff for us?"

Me: "I did not know that."

Crickets.

Me: "Seems kind of..."

Him: "Unsustainable?"

And at that very moment, my package of supplies got delivered.

By FedEx.
posted by chronkite at 12:36 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]



According to the FedEd rate guide, to send a 2lb package ground to the lower 48 from rural Alaska, arriving within 7 days, costs $8.32.


That is the price now with the USPS still in business. I seriously doubt that would be the price were the government to privatize postal delivery.

From the article:
A credit union worker told him the fee was $5 a month. Herr was astonished. "I thought to myself, that's $60 a year," he recalls. "Who's going to want to do that? What happens when Bank of America (BAC) or Citigroup says you are going to have to pay to get your statement on paper? That's going to change a lot of behavior. It's going to affect the postal service. That's how they make most of their money."

So if you can't afford a computer and internet access, life just got a hell of lot more expensive.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:37 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The post office is an odd institution. The one closest to me is a shithole run by zombies who have managed to misplace mail I've sent even via certified or registered mail. Several employees have been removed from interacting with customers for losing their shit or general incompetence. I've submitted several forms that the office and appropriate postmaster are required by law (e.g., no discretion) to retain and abide by and as far as I can tell they wernt straight to the trash. Go one town in either direction, though, and everything is fine.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:40 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a government service and it's needed. If it loses money then it loses money - that's what taxes are (supposed to be) for (rather then wars and tax payouts to Boeing and G.E)

I agree, in spirit, but doing this would just cost everyone more. It is easier to waste money when the costs are hidden. A better solution would be to mandate yearly rate adjustments, so that people are more used to it. Either way, the post office has to be paid for. I prefer to see the real price.
posted by gjc at 12:40 PM on June 4, 2011


Though it's kind of crazy to expect the service to survive at the expense of the collective, especially when mail is diminishing in importance every day.

Again, many things "the collective" enjoys depend upon cheap shipping of small packages. 8 billion is a small price to pay for the jobs the US Postal Service creates, both directly and indirectly; the last thing we need is more expensive goods (as everyone rolls the cost of private shipping into their prices), leading to less buying and selling, combined with even more unemployment (as everyone who can't afford to ride the tide goes out of business).

According to the FedEd rate guide, to send a 2lb package ground to the lower 48 from rural Alaska, arriving within 7 days, costs $8.32.

Maybe, but if you were sending a 2 lb. 5"x5"x5" package to your grandpa in Alaska, it'd be $32.50 for home delivery (did you remember to click "home delivery" on the FedEx quote page? Because if not, your price ain't $8.32, either.) And that price very likely depends on the USPS at one or more points. That's the problem -- not everything is going an urban business address in the lower 48, and without USPS those packages are going to cost more. Probably a lot more.
posted by vorfeed at 12:42 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just yesterday I was talking to the postman about this exact thing, because for the fifth day in a row he had nothing for me but junk mail..

Him: "Did you know we pay Fed Ex and UPS to ship stuff for us?"

Me: "I did not know that."

Crickets.

Me: "Seems kind of..."

Him: "Unsustainable?"

And at that very moment, my package of supplies got delivered.

By FedEx.


That is slightly misleading. The way mail gets transferred is that if there is space on a plane going to the destination, mail is piled aboard and delivered for some statutory rate. Doesn't matter if it is Southwest, United, or a FedEx plane. It isn't like they are hoofing boxes to the FedEx office and paying retail.
posted by gjc at 12:42 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do we need to have this entire thread over again?

That was exactly my first reaction. Here's what I said last time.
posted by mstokes650 at 12:44 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


1. USPS dies.
2. FedEx + UPS pull out of unprofitable markets.
3. Housing drops in those markets, because who wants to live someplace they can't get mail?
4. ???
5. Loss.
posted by andreaazure at 12:44 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]



So if you can't afford a computer and internet access, life just got a hell of lot more expensive.


I'm entirely in favor of my tax dollars supporting public libraries. One can also go to a bank branch, use an ATM or ring up your bank if you need to figure out your account balance or find out if a check has cleared. Paper billing is going to die a slow death.
posted by Diablevert at 12:47 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I swear at least a quarter of my weekly recycling box is junk mail and coupon books, all of it addressed to "RESIDENT" or "POSTAL CUSTOMER".

Is there a way for me to tell USPS not to deliver mail unless it has my name on it?
posted by rh at 12:47 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you did your math wrong andreaazure, as apparently we all live in cities and everything we touch has dissolved into a digital mist that readily transfers across the internet as FTP packets.


I ordered chickens this year. USPS delivered them.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:49 PM on June 4, 2011


USPS dies.

And 570 million American workers hit the unemployment line.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:50 PM on June 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


There is a postal clause in the constitution, yes? Wouldn't that make privatization illegal? IANAL, this is a sincere question.

Whenever I mail a package (always, always at the P.O.), I am consistently surprised at how cheap it is. I don't understand why they don't raise rates across the board.

We neither send nor receive much flat paper mail. I could do without a magazine subscription or a greeting card for the rest of my life, assuming that the internet sticks around. We pay every one of our bills online, even our municipal water bill that stupidly comes as a postcard (better than a sheet of paper in an envelope, but still) and cannot accept electronic payment- our online bill pay sends them a paper check (which is free to us) from TN (we are in MI).

When we moved here six years ago, we got all the previous owner's mail, junk mail, and our mail. I declared war. I signed up (online, of course) for every "stop junk mail" list I could find. I paid $2 to have credit offers withheld for myself and my husband. I wrote- "Addressee Deceased, Please Return to Sender" in heavy black Sharpie about two thousand times. Since I was doing that anyway, I started tagging all our mail except that damn water bill "Return to Sender, Please Remove Me From Your Mailing List". I stuck it all in a plastic grocery sack and, once a week, would hit a blue post box to dump it off. I did this for six months. Now, other than grocery store circulars (which I do want to get), all the mail we get is actually addressed to us by name. Most weeks, we actually get mail two days a week, and it's usually only one piece. I find this indescribably wonderful.

So while I don't think privatization is the way to go, I also don't think that junk mail is going to keep the USPS afloat.
posted by Leta at 12:50 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh shit. I see serious digruntlemnet in our future.
posted by jonmc at 12:52 PM on June 4, 2011


> Is there a way for me to tell USPS not to deliver mail unless it has my name on it?

In Canada all you have to do is put a "NO FLYERS OR JUNK MAIL" note on your mailbox.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:52 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


They were able to pay their debts off in the 90s because that was when junk mail peaked. But peak junk mail happened, the wells are running dry, mass mailers and coupons are going digital. So, let's axe the USPS now that it is less useful to advertisers, and less of a nuisance to the citizenry?
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:54 PM on June 4, 2011


Yes, how nice. Elsewhere in the world, many of those postal services are also serving areas which are, in humbling contrast, half the size of Montana. With forty times the population density.

Australia Post:

At the half-year, the corporation declared an interim dividend of $79.1 million, based on full-year profit expectations and distribution of 75 per cent of after-tax profit for the period. This was paid to our shareholder in April 2010. Due to the significant restructuring provisions made in the final statutory accounts, dividends payable from the 2009-10 result are to remain at $79.1 million. Consequently, the dividend payout ratio for the year is now approximately 97 per cent of the corporation's after-tax profit.

So Australia Post, which services a far more sparse population and a much larger area, provides a fairly substaintial profit to its shareholder, the Australian Federal Government.

Any more bright ideas on what's wrong?
posted by Talez at 12:55 PM on June 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Dammit that looked fine on preview. Mangled my HTML.
posted by Talez at 12:55 PM on June 4, 2011


Again, many things "the collective" enjoys depend upon cheap shipping of small packages. 8 billion is a small price to pay for the jobs the US Postal Service creates, both directly and indirectly; the last thing we need is more expensive goods (as everyone rolls the cost of private shipping into their prices), leading to less buying and selling, combined with even more unemployment (as everyone who can't afford to ride the tide goes out of business).

USPS, aside from not really being a jobs program, doesn't become a cheap shipper by magic. The money needed to run the organization needs to still come from somewhere. The costs are simply shifted one way or another. That cheap Priority package got cheap by all that junk mail and who knows what else.

A common argument in favor of maintaining postal service is that delivery to remote areas needs to remain reasonable. But I wonder why that should be so. Some places have higher costs than others. And should be allowed to do so. Subsidizing the lifestyles of the rural/remote already has consequences to the collective. Add mail delivery to that cost.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:57 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there a way for me to tell USPS not to deliver mail unless it has my name on it?

I asked that question at my post office. They told me that they must deliver the mail that they are paid to deliver -- including junk mail, since someone paid them to do it. I have no idea if that's true or not.
posted by Houstonian at 12:58 PM on June 4, 2011


The Direct Marketing Association runs the no junk mail registry. Tell them the FTC sent you.

Seriously, we need mail service. I just checked and where I work spends about $800/year on first class postage. Many of our customers rely on us to bill them, rather than making them prepay by credit card (which is about our only other option.) Likewise, when we send stuff to Alaska, it's by USPS. Forget UPS or FedX, you can't afford it up there.

I'd happily pay double, yes DOUBLE, the first rate postage to keep USPS in business.
posted by warbaby at 12:59 PM on June 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


A common argument in favor of maintaining postal service is that delivery to remote areas needs to remain reasonable. But I wonder why that should be so. Some places have higher costs than others. And should be allowed to do so. Subsidizing the lifestyles of the rural/remote already has consequences to the collective. Add mail delivery to that cost.

So, let's raise city rates 500%, and keep rural prices the same.

I am not in a city because I can't afford moving to or living in a city. Living out here is not a god damn lifestyle.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:02 PM on June 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


Australia has a much larger area? I don't think so. 7,617,930 square km vs. 9,826,675 square km for the USA. And then theres the little matter of providing service to 23 Billion people vs. 309 Billion in the US
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:02 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, let's raise city rates 500%, and keep rural prices the same.

I am not in a city because I can't afford moving to or living in a city. Living out here is not a god damn lifestyle.


Sorry for the offense. But one reason your lifestyle is so cheap is because the big bad cities create so much wealth to contribute into the kitty.

The bottom line here is that mail is going to cost more, like it or not.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:05 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The bottom line here is that mail is going to cost more, like it or not
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:06 PM on June 4, 2011


What's a postman? I live in freaking Colorado. Very near ski resorts and there is no postal delivery. I have to pay 50 someodd bucks a year for a PO Box. Then if one of my relatives mistakenly puts my moms maiden name instead of my last name on the letter it doesn't get delivered but Occupant or Resident gets to me just fine. That right there pisses me off. I don't know where I stand in regards to USPS. I happen to be a Courier for the purple and orange.

A large portion of our dayside operations at the hubs is postal freight. The express packages I think is what it usually is. It's not just that we 'ride' on the USPS for the tail end of a delivery which isn't even available here since they don't deliver to houses, but we do. They pay us to ship their urgent packages and to link the USPS up with other countries' postal systems. Things are very complicated.
posted by Phantomx at 1:08 PM on June 4, 2011


If mail costs more, I'll like it. Just so there is still mail.
posted by warbaby at 1:09 PM on June 4, 2011


The bottom line here is that mail is going to cost more, like it or not
(duh! Hit Post too soon.)

We all agree with you on that. Just how the costs get distributed is what we are debating here. You seem to be proposing that each person bears the burden of actual cost of delivery regardless of income, whereas other people are suggesting that the costs be covered by taxes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:09 PM on June 4, 2011


Any more bright ideas on what's wrong?

The Australia Post has an absolute monopoly on all posted articles under 250g -- 8.8 Ounces. Take that business away from FedEx and give it to USPS and most of the problems go away.

Then fix the silly rule that the USPS must treat future liabilities as current and pay for them now, even though they don't know what health costs will be or how long retirees will live.
posted by eriko at 1:10 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


So Australia Post, which services a far more sparse population and a much larger area, provides a fairly substaintial profit to its shareholder, the Australian Federal Government.

Any more bright ideas on what's wrong?


If you don't count government-mandated payments toward future health care costs -- billion-dollar payments the Australian Post is most likely not making -- the USPS also posts a profit. Besides, the population of Australia is largely concentrated around the edges of the country, unlike America. This population density map says everything which needs to be said about why mail delivery in Australia is not remotely comparable to mail delivery in the United States.

Just last week I printed a bunch of shirts for an Australian band who couldn't believe the prices I was able to sell them for, largely because sending things through the Australian post costs a fortune. As I said above, I don't think mail which costs an equivalent fortune is a workable solution in America.
posted by vorfeed at 1:10 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Australia has a much larger area? I don't think so. 7,617,930 square km vs. 9,826,675 square km for the USA. And then theres the little matter of providing service to 23 Billion people vs. 309 Billion in the US

So by my reckoning AP is serving 3 people per square km vs USPS serving 31.
posted by Talez at 1:11 PM on June 4, 2011


Sorry for the offense. But one reason your lifestyle is so cheap is because the big bad cities create so much wealth to contribute into the kitty.

And one reason your lifestyle is sustainable is because the big bad country creates so much food to contribute into the kitty. So? "Wealth" is not the only variable in play, here.
posted by vorfeed at 1:13 PM on June 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


And according to the linked article, the USPS gets 1 million new addresses a year to deliver to.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 1:14 PM on June 4, 2011


I asked at our P.O. if they ever had stamp vending machines. They used to, but "no one could ever figure them out", so they were removed.

Then the young female worker held up her hand to shield her words, and mouthed to me, "Old people!".

If not for the last bit, her response would have confused me. I mean, c'mon, there's a Redbox on every corner but not a stamp vending machine?

I could really get behind next generation, ATM style self serve postal kiosks, three day a week delivery, and on-the-corner groups of mailboxes. In fact, if we went to a system where you had to go to your P.O. box, or at least the corner to pick up your mail, that wouldn't bother me. Make exceptions for freight, and apply for home delivery based on poverty and/or disability- like a handicapped tag in a car, perhaps?

I would prefer to see these changes happen after national broadband is implemented. I'd also like to see the LifeLine program (telephone service for the impoverished) extend to the option of internet service, rather than just landlines and cell phones.

There, that's my platform. Vote for me.
posted by Leta at 1:26 PM on June 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


But one reason your lifestyle is so cheap is because the big bad cities create so much wealth to contribute into the kitty.


No. The reason living out here is so cheap is that land is cheap, and I can buy directly from other unsubsidized independent farmers. My food costs are much lower than they were back in Oakland, CA. But, the land is cheap because it is mostly worthless. The land isn't near anything. There is little industry nearby, and the jobs that are available have a low income ceiling. The local library is atrocious, there are no coffeehouses, there are no intellectual societies, only a third of the population have an internet connection, and the richest person in town makes only 200k. It is cheap because nothing is here. There are no opportunities here but the chance to merely live. When you live in a city you pay for being in a city, and I would absolutely pay if I could. But there isn't money here, it is in the cities. So, there is a Catch-22 in play here. I can afford to live here, but there isn't much life. If you take away my affordable postal service, in particular my media mail, then you aren't making it easier for me to contribute to the wealth of the country.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:27 PM on June 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


So by my reckoning AP is serving 3 people per square km vs USPS serving 31.

Again, if you look at where people actually live in Australia, you'll find that AUS has a relatively small area of high population density surrounding a massive, largely-empty (less than 0.1 person every kilometer) area in the middle. America has more than twenty times that population density almost all the way through its own low-population area, spread out over an space which is larger than that of Australia's interior. The scope of mail delivery is simply not comparable.
posted by vorfeed at 1:28 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


"...who wants to live someplace they can't get mail?"

*raises hand*
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:29 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


>You seem to be proposing that each person bears the burden of actual cost of delivery regardless of income

Yes, the same way each person/household bears the actual cost of just about everything they have/do/enjoy, regardless where hey live. Living out in the sticks has its own burdens, which its residents usually accept, yet mail delivery is sacrosanct by constitution, regardless how much it runs in the red.

That being said, I'd prefer postage rates go up as needed to avoid raiding general revenue. I also think lifting the ban on private carriers from delivering mail might be a good idea.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:30 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


>No.

Actually, the way you describe, it sounds like, yes. You're existence relies on the subsidy provided by more economically active cities, yet you prefer to live more cheaply, at least partly on their dime. Yet the costs on you are not only financial. They're also in the area of convenience, entertainment, etc. Your sacrifice is also a cost, just one that's harder to put a dollar amount on.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:40 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The point is: everything the government does is in the red. Sometimes it is just more so than other times.

If you don't want any of the government to be at a loss then we shouldn't have government. If that is your position, then take it. Don't wheedle around spouting some pragmatic compromise. However, if you are placing some particular institutions over others then that requires some actual value judgments. If you are to prioritize the postal service which is running at a $8.3 billion deficit, beneath let's say the Department of Homeland Security which was allocated $98.8 billion for 2011, that sort of position requires more than mere business sense utilitarianism, but a definition of the government's role in our lives.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:41 PM on June 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


2N2222: Prefer? Might I borrow $8,000 from you please, and could you offer me a job?
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:42 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fuck it-- re-nationalize the USPS so its a Cabinet level department again and then declare the internet a post road. Continue physical postal delivery while allowing FedEx/UPS to deliver to mail boxes in markets where its profitable for them to do so. Charge a modest yearly license fee for home internet users and/or a pay-per-message scheme at your local post office. I have just solved the problem of Post Office deficits and net neutrality in one blow!

Maybe.
posted by KingEdRa at 1:44 PM on June 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


1. I believe the USPS should be able to charge whatever it wants for whatever it wants to do!

2. I believe the outdated 1792 postal monopoly should be revoked.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_Express_Statutes

(or explain why shouldn't there be only ONE government-enforced monopoly airline, automaker, oil company, broadband provider, telephone company, bank, television network, newspaper, grocery store, insurance company, barber shop, or school system?)

3. I believe the USPS should pay back the $12G in taxpayer money it consumed so far.

fta> The USPS has stayed afloat by borrowing $12 billion from the U.S. Treasury.
posted by dand at 1:49 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The point is: everything the government does is in the red. Sometimes it is just more so than other times.

In the case of the mail, it's increasingly absurd, as more and more of the USPS existence is dedicated to stuff that goes directly into the garbage. How much should rates for junk mail go up before that cash cow dries up? Then what happens to postal rates?

Sorry about your predicament. Sadly, there's no getting around the idea that your (and every one else's costs) costs are going to go up.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:53 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's see, I bet my table would stand with only three legs, I'll saw one on off and then i won't have to support all four legs.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:53 PM on June 4, 2011


Whatever. You can shut it down and abolish it entirely, as long as you promise me that Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello, and Jenny Lewis will make another album together. If we can't have one Postal Service, we might at least have the other.
posted by schmod at 1:56 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, the same way each person/household bears the actual cost of just about everything they have/do/enjoy, regardless where hey live.

If you look at where most of our tax money comes from and where most of it goes, it's obvious that poor rural people do not "bear the actual cost of just about everything they have/do/enjoy" -- much of it comes from taxes, which largely come from wealthier areas.

Unless you're prepared to make the same argument regarding roads, which aren't even "sacrosanct by constitution", I don't see why the rural poor should be expected to bear the "actual cost" of the mail. That's not the way government services work, for good reason: if it was, there would very shortly be no roads, mail service, or courts in rural areas, because the people who live there cannot pay the actual cost. Do you want to live in such a Balkanized America?
posted by vorfeed at 1:57 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The point I am trying to make is that there is a getting-around it. You allocate funds for the Postal Service in the federal budget. There are better and more obvious places for the GAO's wonks to be focused; like, let's say auditing the pentagon.
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:01 PM on June 4, 2011


My suggestions, FWIW:

1. Dont bail on the health care, FFS.
2. Mail service only 5 days a week.
3. Mail delivery only once or twice a week. You want it faster, pay for it.
4. Shut down at least half of the post offices and put it in pharmacies, etc.
5. Create postage zones, pay more the more zones your letter crosses
6. "Mail management service" charge $XX a month/year to not get mail you'd like to opt out from.
posted by furtive at 2:09 PM on June 4, 2011


Coupla things:

—The USPS applied for a rate increase last year and it was denied. Without an ability to set their own pricing, there's no way to respond to changes in the market.

—I really didn't like the anti-union tone of the article, even if some of the union leadership is blindingly dumb (air sniffers on postal vans?)

—It vexes me that Republicans are going to fuck over rural voters and be rewarded for it, often by those self-same voters.
posted by klangklangston at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


In a 60 Minutes program about doping in the Tour de France, the American team was sponsored by our postal system at some one million bucks...why ?
posted by Postroad at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2011


Ireland's postal service, An Post, made a profit last year despite being kicked in the teeth by the recession. It was a small profit, about 15% of previous years, but mailings were down dramatically due to businesses looking to cut costs. The post office here has a very diverse range of services - an arguably bizarre one, in fact, but you can't argue that it doesn't make money.

I can't remember what you can do in US post offices anymore. Here, they provide postal services, benefit payments, bill payments, currency exchange, mobile phone top ups, and collection of civic taxes like TV licenses and dog licenses.

We get post six days a week. While we are not delivering post to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, this country is 50% rural and we do deliver mail to some epicly remote locations. It costs 55c (about 80c US) to post a letter.

I apologise for the fact the website is atrocious, but the service is quite good!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:15 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Discontinue Saturday service. USPS could save a ton of money, and people would just have to learn to adapt. No Saturday delivery works fine in many places in Europe. But try to even suggest it, and a lot of people in the US go ballistic...

It always sucks to pay more, but I think I'm not alone in being completely willing to pay a little extra for stamps to keep the USPS around.

My work does one quarterly mailing by doing our own mail sorting according to bulk mail rules, then taking the mailing in sacks to the Bulk Mail Unit of the nearby post office. It is incredibly complicated - the instruction manual I wrote for our specific mailing is more than 15 single spaced pages - but we also pay 1/3 of the cost of first class mail. Since we started doing that, though, I have a completely new appreciation for the ease of just putting on a stamp and dropping it in the mailbox...
posted by gemmy at 2:23 PM on June 4, 2011


House Republicans are less charitable. They oppose anything that could be construed as a bailout. They are pushing instead for the USPS to make deep budget cuts
Ahahahahaahahaha bailout for banks, who juggle immaterial goods, but no bailout for people who actually deliver something!

And that's just page 2...
posted by elpapacito at 2:24 PM on June 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Frankly, I've never understood the hate-on people get for the USPS. I've never had a problem with the service. Packages have always arrived in as timely a fashion, and in at least as good shape as they do when using UPS or FedEx. We ship packages of home-made candy across the country every Christmas. USPS does it cheaper than anyone else. And we've never had a package lost or delivered late.

And, while I know it's not what the cool kids do, we still get business correspondence and bills in the mail.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:26 PM on June 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


If only there were a way to decrease health care costs while increasing coverage.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm going to use my junk mail to fan-dry my balls. Problems solved.
posted by cashman at 2:29 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I haven't got a clue as to how he plans to "get this thing turned around" Force everybody in Raleigh to start mailing letters from that particular post office?

I used to have to use that post office every weekday. It had the slowest, surliest service I've ever encountered at the USPS. Good riddance.
posted by EarBucket at 2:51 PM on June 4, 2011


@Secret Life of Gravy; There isn't even 400 Million people in the US. Might want to check your numbers. ;)
posted by Pangur Ban at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's see.

1. I've had a PO box for14 years. The same one. 2 weeks ago, a form was in my box to apply for the same box I have.

2. This week, I was locked out of my box because I supposedly hadn't paid my renewal fee. I had to ask them to unlock it. The receipt for my renewal fee was in the box.

*crickets*
posted by yoga at 3:12 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there a way for me to tell USPS not to deliver mail unless it has my name on it?
A friend of mine once told me that he took a piece of junk mail marked "Recipient", wrote "NO SUCH ADDRESSEE", and put it back in his mail box. He claimed that he stopped getting junk mail.

(I seriously doubt that this works in general, but hey)
posted by Flunkie at 3:31 PM on June 4, 2011


If you look at where most of our tax money comes from and where most of it goes, it's obvious that poor rural people do not "bear the actual cost of just about everything they have/do/enjoy" -- much of it comes from taxes, which largely come from wealthier areas.

Unless you're prepared to make the same argument regarding roads, which aren't even "sacrosanct by constitution", I don't see why the rural poor should be expected to bear the "actual cost" of the mail. That's not the way government services work, for good reason: if it was, there would very shortly be no roads, mail service, or courts in rural areas, because the people who live there cannot pay the actual cost. Do you want to live in such a Balkanized America?
i think the difference is roads are more public-goodish because it is hard (expensive) to exclude people from using roads. i think where possible it is better to have unsubsidised services and more generous transfers than subsidised services and less generous transfers.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 3:37 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Secret Life of Gravy: "The bottom line here is that mail is going to cost more, like it or not

We all agree with you on that. Just how the costs get distributed is what we are debating here. You seem to be proposing that each person bears the burden of actual cost of delivery regardless of income, whereas other people are suggesting that the costs be covered by taxes
"

Actually, I'm not sure I agree that mail has to cost more. The USPS is not immune to supply and demand, and seem to be in a death spiral of falling demand, raising prices to make up the shortfall insisting that mail volume will return in spite of it. This is a strategy to guarantee implosion and cream skimming.
posted by pwnguin at 3:40 PM on June 4, 2011


"i think the difference is roads are more public-goodish because it is hard (expensive) to exclude people from using roads."

Kinda sorta, or you could just not build those roads, sewer systems, and piping for free for developers. If its worth building the infrastructure, then the developer could build it.
posted by stratastar at 3:42 PM on June 4, 2011


Most of Big Business isn't so strongly affected by it, could frankly do without it. Half a million jobs would be lost, and a lot of mostly rural, mostly poor people would be negatively affected, but private industry would "step in" conveniently, some fraction of those jobs would reappear delivering what used to be US Mail for UPS or FedEx - of course, at a lower rate and lower benefits...

To survive, the post office needs a government bailout, it needs dramatic restructuring, some grown-up actually has to take responsibility and reorganize it in a positive fashion.

Also, both political parties have bought into the mantra that government is bad, government intervention is bad, stopping the free market is bad.

And Americans today are generally "Good riddance" because they're too short-sighted to understand how having the postal service collapse is yet another step toward creating a large permanent underclass of unemployable pariahs.

So it's all going down.

Having the postman show up every day is the very epitome of civilization. There's a fascinating book that I think was made into a bad movie called The Postman, where a man takes a postman's uniform from a corpse after the collapse - and almost accidentally manages to forge a start at a new society simply because of people's respect and nostalgia for the days of postal service.

You'll miss it when it's gone - civilization, that is.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:46 PM on June 4, 2011 [21 favorites]


I live in a rural area. I used to have mail pickup 1.7 miles down the road from me, but the boxes kept getting broken into. So I switched to a po box in town. It's free.

I run an online store and sell things on eBay. A lot of my customers are in other countries.
Shipping things via FedEx or UPS to other countries is a PITA and expensive.
Shipping things via USPS is simple and cheap, especially when it's done online. (They offer discounted postage for international shipments.)

I've noticed that they've started charging a little more for regular domestic priority mail--the price is higher the longer the trip it'll make. I think they should continue that trend whenever they're allowed to raise prices.
posted by luckynerd at 3:58 PM on June 4, 2011


Secret Life of Gravy; There isn't even 400 Million people in the US. Might want to check your numbers. ;)

Duh! A clear case of PBN* I meant to write half a million but then put the number in. The real figure is 571,566.

*Posting Before Nap
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have always thought that the US postal service was the best deal on the planet. Think about it. I can put an envelope in a little metal box next to my front door, and raise the red flag. Then, for less than 50 cents, somebody will pick it up, fly it across the country for me, and then hand deliver it to my friend's little metal box next to his front door. And they will do this for me in like 3 days. And they don't even expect a tip! Wow! No wonder they are insolvent.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Postal Service is not nearing collapse. The concept that government services need to make a profit is nearing collapse.
posted by DU at 4:25 PM on June 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Saturday service? i live in downtown industrial LA, and there's no Saturday delivery. That's a mandate. Of course, there's no service on the day after a holiday, a rainy day, a day when my regular carrier is sick, or a host of other days. On the bright side, the crack-addicted carrier with the big wig collection finally got caught stealing mail, and got reassigned. Not fired, just moved. My regular carrier told me he almost quit when he found out. He's great, but he has to work with the scum of the earth.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:52 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Postal Service = Socialism

If only you could send healthcare in an envelope.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:59 PM on June 4, 2011


And one reason your lifestyle is sustainable is because the big bad country creates so much food to contribute into the kitty. So? "Wealth" is not the only variable in play, here.

I agree that rural delivery ought to be subsidized, no matter what. If you have an address, you should be able to get mail. Basic right of residence, far as I'm concerned.

But the city versus country derail, whenever it comes up, is silly. A HUGE part of the reason tax money flows out from population centers into rural areas is because so much of the farming industry is tax-preferred or subsidized. Everyone loves to complain about the one off fat-cat bailout, but every year, like clockwork, we give billions to "farmers" and agribusiness, accounting for over 10% of the GDP of that sector. It is cheaper to live in these areas because that money is injected into those economies. This is likely good public policy, but that doesn't change the fact that it IS cheaper, and in no small part because of the subsidies.
posted by gjc at 5:23 PM on June 4, 2011


The Postal Service is not nearing collapse. The concept that government services need to make a profit is nearing collapse.

The fact that the USPS exists, and is required to serve all residents, is the service. The USPS shouldn't be asked to make a profit, but it absolutely ought to break even.
posted by gjc at 5:33 PM on June 4, 2011


What if the post office stopped delivering to businesses? My company only gets anything important via FedEx or UPS. The postman comes to our office twice a day and leaves with nothing more than employee netflix envelopes.

P.S....there's the other loser if the post office cuts back....
posted by jefficator at 5:36 PM on June 4, 2011


Kinda sorta, or you could just not build those roads, sewer systems, and piping for free for developers. If its worth building the infrastructure, then the developer could build it.

Those are usually built by counties rather than the federal government, and they do so in anticipation of future revenues from property taxes, sales taxes etc. How long do you think the developer should wait to make a profit? It's easier to just go build somewhere else. Such developments aren't usually a zero-sum game, but offer mutual benefit for both sides, albeit on different timescales.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:10 PM on June 4, 2011


You know, there is a much more fundamental reason the founders may have mandated a universal postal service: basic, guaranteed communication and dissemination of ideas, ideas that perhaps one wanted to keep between oneself and one other person for financial, political or other reasons. A letter is, and has always been, the base line of private communication.

It's called eMAIL for a reason.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:16 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


And 570 million American workers hit the unemployment line.

The USPS employs almost twice as many Americans as actually exist?
posted by acb at 6:18 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


So Australia Post, which services a far more sparse population and a much larger area, provides a fairly substaintial profit to its shareholder, the Australian Federal Government.

A disproportionately large section of that population is concentrated near the coasts; most farmland is fairly close to the coasts, and much of inland Australia is uninhabited or very sparsely inhabited. In contrast, a greater proportion of the US consists of small towns and agricultural communities which have to be serviced. (Also, Australia Post doesn't deliver on a Saturday, though I suspect that's a small part of it.)
posted by acb at 6:23 PM on June 4, 2011


The USPS employs almost twice as many Americans as actually exist?

This thread is really not that on top of numbers. :)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:25 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and I just received notice that the Post Office failed, for the second time, to deliver an important mailing to a government office because they need a signature to deliver it and nevertheless tried to deliver it on a Saturday. Now I'm going to have to go down and hand-deliver the form and the check because the Post Office, instead of sensibly attempting re-delivery on a Monday when the place is actually open, is going to hold it for someone to (never) pick up and eventually return it to me. FAIL.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:47 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Postal workers should start delivering staples like milk, bread and pot along their routes.

USPS, I might be available for the right position, mid six figures, let's talk, memail me.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:49 PM on June 4, 2011


Also, this one time I had a bad experience with the USPS so it should just be allowed to wither and die.
posted by lalex at 6:52 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


So many internet users believe that everyone has the ability and the resources to do the same thing as them and this is just not true.

If you don't have money for an internet connection and are not located in an area with a public library you are out of luck. Unless the government starts declaring internet a public utility and taking measures to ensure access, then not everyone will get it and even if they have access, they may not have the ability to use it for things like bill pay.

Unfortunately for us, those people are very underrepresented on the internet, to say the least.

Also what about vote by mail? You want to send your vote through a private company?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 7:05 PM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


This thread is really not that on top of numbers. :)

Yep. There are 571,000 USPS employees. That's 571 thousand.

And here are a couple important facts to know:

There are 307,000,000 Americans. That's 307 million.

The world population is almost 7,000,000,000. That's 7 billion. And there is no country with billions of people. The largest country, China, has between 1 and 2 billion people.
posted by John Cohen at 7:13 PM on June 4, 2011


It's called eMAIL for a reason.

They think it's special because it's delivered by horseless carriage, but I have yet to see any improvement on that delivered by stagecoach. And another thiingg - holde onn, lette me sharpenne my quille.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:17 PM on June 4, 2011


Reading this thread cements the idea that many mefites aren't as smart as they claim they are.

Wow.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:46 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


So Australia Post, which services a far more sparse population and a much larger area, provides a fairly substaintial profit to its shareholder, the Australian Federal Government.

Uhm can I suggest all of you go back and re-examine what the accounts of the Australian post office says? Once you factor in the actuarial losses that are a big part of the issues at the USPS as well Australia Post lost 200 mil last year, and 800 mil the year before.

On the issue of privatizing the USPS - its a very tricky thing, if you privatize them but require universal service you had to find someway to subsidize universal service (we actually do this with Telephony and Electricity BTW). If you purely privatize them the cost of mail will skyrocket - the existence of post offices in nearly every small town in America creates a moat that would be virtually unstoppable, and they'll figure out pretty quicky how to optimize pricing.
posted by JPD at 7:58 PM on June 4, 2011


If the USPS folds before issuing a Charles Bukowski stamp, I'm going to be really annoyed.
posted by Scram at 8:03 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Asking for real: how did the British privatization of the post go? Along the lines of rail service or better?

As another anecdote, when I went into my PO on tax day, and the local office had their thing down. They thanked us for our patronage ushered people with credit cards to the self-service machine, and got a huge line through in insane time.
posted by stratastar at 8:28 PM on June 4, 2011


Can I just say, once an for all, fuck FedEx?

I bought something on eBay a few years ago, shipped from the States to Canada. The item cost, if I recall correctly, about $100. The initial shipping costs seemed reasonable at under $50 for a bulky item.

It arrived a week or so later, and that was that. Hooray!

...Until some six weeks later, when I get a letter in the mail saying I owe FedEx $100 for brokerage fees. Now, I know what brokerage fees are for: Some dude rubber-stamping a form on my behalf. And I know what USPS charges for that service, up front: About $5. And FedEx is springing me with a surprise bill that would make the cost of shipping an item 50% more than the cost of the item itself?

FUCK FEDEX. And also, yay USPS!

(I'm pretty sure there's been a class action lawsuit since then.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:39 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


FedEx doesn't charge brokerage. UPS does on its cheaper services.
posted by unSane at 8:55 PM on June 4, 2011


They think it's special because it's delivered by horseless carriage, but I have yet to see any improvement on that delivered by stagecoach. And another thiingg - holde onn, lette me sharpenne my quille.

Not sure if it was your inability to muster the requisite era-appropriate, superfluous use of the subjunctive mood or your anachronisticly invented spellings that clued me in, but, all ad hominem and like, it's probably for the better that you let the grown ups worry about things like making sure people have a fundamentally protected way to communicate.

I'd be happy to recommend a few correspondence courses on trolling via memail for you, if using memail for that meets your infantile irony quotient, that is.
posted by digitalprimate at 9:01 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


FedEx doesn't charge brokerage. UPS does on its cheaper services.

Well, they at least used to, and weren't upfront about it at all, and I will never, ever, ever deal with them again. Ever.

Oh, and Cast Away sucked.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:11 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


An army of men in wool pants running through the neighborhood handing out pottery catalogs, door to door. ha ha ... haaaa jeez they know where we all live.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:34 PM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


gjc writes "That is slightly misleading. The way mail gets transferred is that if there is space on a plane going to the destination, mail is piled aboard and delivered for some statutory rate. Doesn't matter if it is Southwest, United, or a FedEx plane. It isn't like they are hoofing boxes to the FedEx office and paying retail."

Which makes sense. The other option would be for the USPS to maintain their own fleet of planes. The current method is better if only for environmental and airport utilization reasons.

Diablevert writes "I'm entirely in favor of my tax dollars supporting public libraries. One can also go to a bank branch, use an ATM or ring up your bank if you need to figure out your account balance or find out if a check has cleared. Paper billing is going to die a slow death."

A lot of poor rural people don't have reasonable daily access to any of these things. Heck I don't know what the states is like but there are a lot of fly in fly out communities in Canada that don't have wired phone service.
posted by Mitheral at 9:35 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Diablevert Interesting fact, in most rural areas FedEx delivers by sending through the USPS. http://fedex.com/us/smart-post/outbound.html

Actually, Smart Post is just a cheap way to send FedEx which ends up going through the PO at the end. FedEx delivers to my door, and I also get Smart Post through USPS and I live in a rural area.

Smart Post also is delivered to all US address, urban and rural.
posted by SuzySmith at 12:04 AM on June 5, 2011


health care

Anyone else notice a thread running through so many budget issues in the last few years?
posted by krinklyfig at 2:36 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Frankly, I've never understood the hate-on people get for the USPS.

For the most part I like it. But some local postal departments aren't run very well, like the one here. A lot of people still mail checks here to pay bills. Unfortunately, our local postal service manages to misdirect or lose a hell of a lot of mail, and there are chronic hiring issues leaving them short-staffed most of the time. I still use it and I want it to be around to the point where I'm willing to pay more.

But we need to accept that it will run at a loss and prioritize good service and efficiency. It does no good to throw money away on useless crap like inefficient, private health insurance, TSA and a decade long war in two countries and complain we have budget issues and have to give the USPS the axe. Come on. $8 billion? This is not an issue unless we make it one. We have spent far more on far less.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:46 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I've never understood the hate-on people get for the USPS.

It is the only part of the US government most people interact with regularly, and it isn't faceless -- they're at your door or mailbox, or they are standing there on the other side of a counter, and they are demanding payment per task rather than taking it out of your taxes -- so people have real employees and immediate costs to gripe about.

Anyway, it's really wrong to pretend the postal service should be a profit-making business. It's a necessary part of the government. Some assholes somehow convinced people that it shouldn't be, but it should remain part of the government.
posted by pracowity at 3:10 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


We have postal problems in the UK. Fed-Ex and UPS are allowed to do mail delivery, but a lot of the actual sorting and moving is done by the Post Office.

And as for breaking it up, allowing different companies to service different areas (at whatever level), well, look what happened to the railways.
posted by marienbad at 4:28 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The issue of waste is not ideological or constitutional. Every day the mailman delivers between a few ounces and half a pound of junk mail to my home. Multiply it out to my entire apartment building and that's tens of pounds of mail a day, *most* of which I see getting dumped right into the recycle bin in the mailroom, to be picked up by a gas-burning truck and shipped off to some energy-consuming plant to be pulped and shipped out again to be reprinted as more junk mail, saturated in toxic color inks, all of it to sell me terrycloth robes and fancy perfume and a whole lot of other shit no one really needs or wants.

This isn't just the USPS. It's America. We piss away energy, resources, time, labor, and brain cells on shit. We waste more than we use. People scrape more food into their garbage disposals than the average African child gets to eat in a day.

I don't care if junk mail pays for first class mail. In the end, we all pay for junk mail, and the price can't be measured in dollars.

I work in bush Alaska. The USPS is absolutely necessary (but you have to have a PO box and go to the post office for mail, which most people can manage do do only once or twice a week) to receive nearly anything more than basic supplies for living. I live in a dense east coast city, where it's hard to see why we need 6 day a week last mile delivery of what is *overwhelmingly* junk mail.

This is not the public good imagined in the constitution, and it isn't an issue of ideology or fairness to me. It's a massively inefficient dedication of precious resources (above all, fuel and labor) to subsidize a consumerist lifestyle that is, itself, being subsidized a thousand other ways as well, from the wars that keep our gas cheap to the infrastructure needed to allow so many people to drive to work from their 5000 square foot suburban homes (there's a lot in between lower Manhattan and the food-producing countryside).

I believe one or two day a week home delivery would suffice. I'd also be more than willing to pay significantly more for my own first class mail (I probably send 6 things a year these days by USPS) and pay more for shipping things I order to subsidize delivery to truly rural parts of the country. In fact, I'd be willing to pay to keep junk mail out of the mailbox entirely, just like I am willing to pay for other things that save energy costs, which benefits the entire world.

First class and parcel post only, with the actual cost of the entire system socialized across all users of the system, or even partly subsidized through direct taxation, would be fine with me. I look at that recycling bin full of Bed Bath and Beyond and Pier One catalogs and to me it might as well be a sloshing bucket full of fossil fuel. It's yet another case where Americans have gotten used to the idea that it's our right to be wasteful and that government owes us a subsidy for wasting resources.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:14 AM on June 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


Lets be honest here: The postal service is basically running an ad-supported system. But in terms of the cost structures now it's just not really that efficient.

First of all, it needs to go online. What I would do is, unless it's some kind of 'special' item just have bulk senders upload a PDF and a list of people to send it too. Custom letters (like bills and whatnot) could be uploaded directly or scanned and uploaded. Users could go online and see the mail that's waiting for them, and if they want, have it printed and delivered. If users don't have internet access, the items would just be printed and delivered.

Shipping information around the country, printed on paper, is just ridiculous.

The other thing, people should just have a mail ID that they can give out, and users can just update the physical address where they want the mail delivered. For privacy concerns, users would be able to get new IDs and deactivate old ones if they want - just like how people can just move now.
And one reason your lifestyle is sustainable is because the big bad country creates so much food to contribute into the kitty. So? "Wealth" is not the only variable in play, here.
The food is not 'contributed' it's paid for. Then people in cities get taxed again to subsidize the farmers. And then they get taxed even more to subsidize living in those areas. If those subsidies ended, food prices might go up but probably not by all that much.
posted by delmoi at 5:28 AM on June 5, 2011


I skipped forward in my reading here to comment. The Postal Service is an important lubricant to smalland large businesses throughout the country and tax-payer dollars SHOULD support it, because the mail is every bit as important as those free roads that those Government-hating yahoos forget to complain about.

My suggestion -- for years -- has been that USPS expand their services to keep up with the utility they've lost. For years now, the French Postal service has offered basic finacial services (e.g. Checking accounts) and telephone services. Anyone who has traveled in rural France has probably either changed money or made a phone call from a French P.O.

(My thought is that USPS and Google ought to be talking about creating a USPS internet service that allows people to pay their bills online safely and securely at a low-cost, if not provide enhanced storage and security resources.

Not everyone can afford to have/create/own their own personal webpage, but USPS and Google could make things as affordable and accessible as a $.44 stamp.
posted by vhsiv at 7:29 AM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


vhsiv, do you know the details about how La Poste is doing this? Are they running at-cost or what do they do with their profits? With the cell phone service do they put up cell towers or only enter into agreements with local mobile companies? For banking, what activities are they involved in to make money from the deposits, and how did they raise their initial capital?
posted by Houstonian at 9:56 AM on June 5, 2011


Frankly, I've never understood the hate-on people get for the USPS.

I've lived in remote rural Montana, in small towns, in big cities, and I never had anything but sterling service from the Post Office until I moved into industrial Los Angeles, in a "artist" area that the city is frantic to develop. Incompetence isn't just accepted, it's rewarded. Bad managers, who would be fired in a private company, get moved to the big district office down here (Alameda St.) because they can't be fired, and need to be watched by people who probably also got moved around. It's like rehab--if someone can make it through the program, she/he gets hired to work there.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:57 AM on June 5, 2011


vhsiv,
USPS offered passbook savings accounts from 1910 until the late 1960s: link.

It makes sense because postal money orders used to be one of the only ways to safely send money interstate. Once the Federal Reserve got up and running, the post office lost that uniqueness because the Fed allowed checks to clear without a charge. Before that, banks charged a transaction fee to clear a check. Just like the banks do now with credit/debit card transactions. Credit card transactions cost the merchant, and debit cards cost the consumer as well.

The Post Office, roads and check clearing are examples of the classical economic theory of minimizing rents. Rents = unearned income. Classical economics was all about public subsidy of the basic underpinnings of society, so that small business could flourish. Otherwise, a few big players would operate the essential networks, and push out the small business owners.
posted by wuwei at 11:10 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I've lived in remote rural Montana, in small towns, in big cities, and I never had anything but sterling service from the Post Office until I moved into industrial Los Angeles, in a "artist" area that the city is frantic to develop."

Which is weird. I've lived a couple places in LA, and the service goes from incredibly good (where we are now) to overtly terrible (in my old place). Like, I suspect that the mail carrier we had in West LA was just holding onto all of the mail and making her rounds every couple of days.

But that changed after a couple of months and someone new came on the route.

Back where I grew up, we were in a neighborhood that was seen as undesirable by the postal carriers (townhouses set on hills meant every mailbox had about ten stairs to get to it), and our postal service would fluctuate wildly, as everyone got rotated out of the neighborhood after three months of so — we'd usually have, like, a week or two of shit service as they learned the route, then it'd get good, then we'd repeat.
posted by klangklangston at 11:17 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd be totally OK with the USPS only delivering mail to me once per week. That is, for a given area, some of the people get mail on Mondays, some get it on Tuesdays, etc.—which is how trash pickup usually works. If I need something faster, I'll just pay UPS or FedEx.

I think with a model like this you could eventually reduce the letter-carrier workforce to about 20% of its current size through attrition.
posted by rossmeissl at 12:28 PM on June 5, 2011


USPS offered passbook savings accounts from 1910 until the late 1960s

Also, when the great crash came in 1929, while those who'd had money in banks were wiped out, those (usually poorer and immigrant) who used a USPS passbook savings account, were still safe and sound.

If the USPS went back to providing that service, I would use it in a heartbeat. No questions asked. HSBC would be S - O - L on raping me with fees.
posted by Skygazer at 1:31 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look at this thread.

"I". "Me". "My".

This why you can't ...
posted by mr.marx at 3:54 PM on June 5, 2011


I know this has been mentioned a few times upthread, but to understand the USPS's financial straits it is absolutely crucial to know about the prefunding of retiree health benefits and the overpayments into that fund: this press release from USPS does a decent job of explaining the situation. Unless I bought into postal employee lobbying way too much (when I was a bottom-of-the-totem-pole legislative aide tasked with a portfolio of unwanted stuff like postal issues), it seems pretty clear that fixing this is vital to solving USPS's problems.

I also completely agree with fourcheesemac about the waste problem, though.
posted by naoko at 6:28 PM on June 5, 2011


I'd love to see how profitable FedEx and UPS would be when any significant decisions they need to make literally require an act of Congress.
posted by MikeKD at 10:31 PM on June 5, 2011


I don't care if junk mail pays for first class mail. In the end, we all pay for junk mail, and the price can't be measured in dollars.

I hate junk mail, but it started a long time ago and was encouraged by the postal system from the start. I believe you can thank (or blame) Sears & Roebuck along with the advent of rural delivery.

"In 1888, Richard Sears first used a printed mailer to advertise watches and jewelry. Under the banner "The R.W. Sears Watch Co." Sears promised his customers that, "we warrant every American watch sold by us, with fair usage, an accurate time keeper for six years – during which time, under our written guarantee we are compelled to keep it in perfect order free of charge."

"The time was right for mail order merchandise. Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical."
posted by krinklyfig at 11:04 PM on June 5, 2011


Why don't they offer, for a fee, a no-junk-mail service?

This could be a big revenue source, as the USPS could continue to accept payment for postage for junk mail items unless marketers pay them additional fees for access to an updated list of junk-mail blocked addresses. The USPS could filter junk mail out at the point of delivery, after postage had been collected, for a small monthly/annual fee--that's money on both sides of the deal for the USPS, and both the USPS and the public get added value in the bargain (the bulk mail marketing providers, not so much).
posted by saulgoodman at 7:48 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I believe the USPS should pay back the $12G in taxpayer money it consumed so far.

I believe the banks and car manufacturers should go first.
posted by Zed at 11:09 AM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I'm entirely in favor of my tax dollars supporting public libraries. One can also go to a bank branch, use an ATM or ring up your bank if you need to figure out your account balance or find out if a check has cleared. Paper billing is going to die a slow death."

I'm totally in favor of merging libraries with the postal service. Got halfway there with my last comment on the matter. It's sort of a 21st century idea, but it's got everything to do with information storage, access, and exchange. I respect librarians and am not looking to add to their workload, so we'll just add to the existing workforce. Bring the postal workers over. Make e-mail/internet access a public good/right. And, bonus! improve interlibrary loan because, well, every library is also a post office. Holy awesome, Batman.

Totally not practical, but I still feel like there's a certain sense there...
posted by Eideteker at 11:01 AM on June 7, 2011


All of you people saying you wouldn't mind one day a week of mail clearly haven't signed up for Netflix.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 4:04 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Netflix would just have to change their subscription plans to allow people to have a weeks worth out at a time. Sure it would cramp the "order it tonight and get it two days later" spontaneity but there is streaming available for many title and it's not like people aren't waiting a significant time currently.

At any rate one day a week is probably a non starter just for volume reasons. A week's worth of mail would probably overflow many standard mailboxes at least some of the time even if it was junk mail free (birthdays, Christmas, graduations, etc.). And it would significantly delay benefit cheques. A minimum of 2-3 times a week is probably more practical.
posted by Mitheral at 4:24 PM on June 7, 2011


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