Friday, April 16, 2010

Going Postal

The United States Postal Service is a favorite whipping boy for opponents of government. FedEx and UPS deliver faster, more reliably, and cheaper. USPS needs to close post offices, suspend Saturday delivery, and, for God’s sake, get rid of those Cliff Claven, Newman-esque employees. (Full disclosure: my brother is a letter carrier.)

Here’s a suggestion: maybe USPS could emulate some of FedEx’s and UPS’s business practices. How about letting them cherry pick where things get delivered. Today, you need something delivered to Grandma’s farm in South Bumfuck, NE, it costs you the same as sending it across town. UPS and FedEx may not even deliver it.

It’s true a lot of things are wrong with the Postal Service, but what they routinely accomplish is amazing. Last Sunday I placed an order online and took the cheapest shipping option available: USPS Parcel Post. The package arrived Tuesday morning. It was shipped on Monday, and arrived Tuesday. No fee for special overnight. Granted, it wasn’t guaranteed, but try sending something FedEx Ground and have it get there overnight, even though it only went a hundred miles or so. “FedEx doesn’t isn’t set up to do that kind of thing?” Right. USPS is, and it costs.

This is a prime example of how those who continue to advocate for ever smaller government don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. There are some things government is uniquely suited to do, because they have to be done and can’t really be done profitably. Mail delivery is a good example. The next time someone bitches about it, ask them if they’d prefer to have to shop around to make sure a letter can even be delivered to the address they’re requesting before they mail it.

Oh, wait. No one else will even deal with a plain old envelope. Too cost-inefficient. Maybe we should just bite the bullet and subsidize USPS after all.

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