Difficult decisions ahead
Jan 24, 2013 | 1606 views | 1 1 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While the United States Postal Service continues to wring its hands over what to do about the massive financial losses it continues to incur, Americans need to pay attention to what is happening with the USPS. There are broader issues to take away from the struggles of the postal service, and they will have far-reaching ramifications.

At the website savethepostoffice.com, retired postmaster Mark Jameson writes, in a lengthy blog entitled “At what price profit? The battle for the soul of the Postal Service,” that the postal service’s struggles reflect broader issues in our society:

“The politicians line up on the issue according to their ideological predispositions.  So, many of the Republican politicians advocate for a postal service that moves more towards a privatized, lightly regulated model, one that more closely follows the model of the last 30 years of seeing value only in terms of maximized profits.  Most of the Democrats appear interested in protecting their traditional constituencies in labor, but they also use the word “compete” as if competition, or what is often termed competition but is actually something much different, i.e. deregulation, will magically provide answers to all questions.

“The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the discussions over the future of the postal service represent a concrete example of how stilted and narrow our economic discussions have become generally.  We have become so enamored over theories of efficient markets and the value of unbridled competition that we have excised broader views on what makes for both a healthy economy and, more important, a healthy society.”

Jameson goes on to say:

“We have seen the same problems with other infrastructures.  Designed to facilitate commerce and competition, they have become prisoners of consolidated industries that wield monopoly power.  Our electrical grid is decades behind the curve, and improvements continue to lag, yet it appears we have learned nothing since the days of deregulation and Enron.

“All across the country, public investment in infrastructure is shunned.  Worse, we keep trying to find ways to transfer infrastructure into private hands, as Indiana has done by leasing its toll road to a private company.  The result of most of these deals is often short-term gain and long-term deterioration of the asset.  Ultimately we all suffer from our inability to understand the value of public infrastructure.  The fact that it is necessary as a means of facilitating markets and competition seems to escape us.”

He concludes by saying:

“The network that we, the American people, have built has served us well.  It has been a reliable and important source of employment, and it has done so in a financially sound way.  It truly does bind the nation together — by delivering our communications, our personal papers, our medications, our information and opinion, and by providing a touchstone place in our communities.  It is an essential part of our national infrastructure, and it has tremendous untapped potential for public good.

“We are in the process of losing a good bit of our national infrastructure through neglect and worse through the delusion that privatized infrastructure is somehow more profitable. Maybe it is, but the question becomes profitable for whom?  Perhaps the greater question is: Are we citizens of a ‘great public undertaking’ envisioned by our founders 236 years ago, or are we merely customers?”

Americans will have to make more and more choices about essential services. It’s unfortunate, but that appears to be where this country is headed. Budget tightening, or cutting, is something this country is going to go through one way or another. The postal service, in many ways, is just the tip of the iceberg. Infrastructure, social services, health care, and Social Security are, or will be, just a few of the essential government service to spend time on the chopping block during the coming years.

We as a country have to decide what services we pay for individually and what services we pay for collectively.

Those decisions won’t be easy. Average citizens must see beyond the posturing and demagoguery to decide what type of country we want to leave our children and grandchildren.
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mickeynowak
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February 28, 2013
Great "big picture" letter about the post office and modern life. We all love deregulation when it drives down prices but yes it does have negative effects on the number of people needed as the deregulated entity becomes more efficient. The problem with the post office is simple - the amount of letters sent is collapsing as more people use email and online bill paying. I don't think we can stop that. Look at what happened to people that serviced horses when the auto was invented. We sympathize but, sorry, I'm not going to ride a horse to keep those people employed. In conclusion, when I drive up to my humble house in Wardsboro I pass the West Dover post office, the West Wardsboro post office, and the Wardsboro post office - all in about 12 miles! - do we really need all three?