"It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will." ~ Adam Smith
The Post Office That Government Built
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
As I continue to do my small part to ultimately wipe government off the face of the Earth forever, I can offer at least two prognostications which, although modest in scope compared to any actual voluntaryist destination, are almost sure to occur in the relatively near future. One, is marijuana legalization – even if only in some heavily taxed and age-restricted statist form – and the other is the collapse of the Pony Express . . . well . . . U.S. Postal Service.
The USPS brass have been crying poverty for the past several years, and not without good reason. Due primarily to a combination of modern Internet communications technology and the superior services available in package shipments and overnight deliveries available through the fully private sector, the U.S. Mail has seen a dramatic decrease in business volume. One that now totals billions of dollars in losses, and rising.
The reasons for this, other than the aforementioned, should be obvious. The USPS, not unlike the Social Security program, has taken on a level of entitlement spending to ensure pensions and other benefits guaranteed to retired employees wholly incommensurate with present-day market realities. Hence, as is the inevitable doom of all socialist endeavors, we are now witnessing its implosion.
Bear in mind that perhaps the only reason why the USPS currently remains in operation whatsoever is the federal law that imposes criminal penalties for attempting to compete in the business of standard mail delivery with them. This in turn explains why they have gotten away with hiking postal rates every six months or so for years – to the point where, at the time of this writing, up to a one ounce letter costs 45 cents, and a mere postcard, 32 cents. (Of course, the “hidden tax” of general inflation comes into play here as well, thanks to the federal government’s century-long acquiescence to and endorsement of the privately-owned Federal Reserve system – though this is still another example of government’s endless and sacrosanct skullduggery that lies largely beyond the scope of the subject at hand).
It was none other than Lysander Spooner who, in 1844, established the American Letter Mail Company in a direct and open challenge to the government’s self-proclaimed monopoly – and while he obviously did not succeed in eliminating the USPS, Spooner did, for a time, force the lowering of postal rates twice. A concise overview of this particular saga is available here, and is recommended reading to anyone further interested in the subject.
By what rationale, then, do the administrators of the USPS, and those in other areas of government, justify the kidnapping and caging of people who may wish to provide the same services at lower cost and greater efficiency? The popular refrain in our own time has been that by allowing the privatization of mail delivery, people residing in rural and remote areas will not receive adequate service.
If one wished to be exceedingly generous and forgiving, it might be conjectured that no one at the USPS, for at least the past 20 years or more, has to date been given the opportunity to peruse a Federal Express, or UPS, or DHL catalogue – either print or online version. For it is long documented fact that these companies have been delivering packages and documents to some of the most out of the way locations on Earth – such as Nepal, Nauru, and deepest Africa – let alone within the 50 “states,” including all incorporated territories. In other words, this excuse holds precisely zero water. In other words, several past Postmaster Generals and their staffs are and have been full to bursting with sh*t.
There are those who, I realize, remain enchanted with the notion that three or four pieces of 225 year old parchment called the “Constitution” is a sacred text capable of justifying any action by those in government therein “permitted” or proscribed. Once again, here, I find it most profitable to repair back to Lysander Spooner in his unanswerable 1870 exposé “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.” However, for those adamantly unwilling to accept Spooner’s findings, the idea of a government monopoly on postal service still remains on shaky ground. If we look at Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which alleges to grant certain powers to the group of individuals known collectively as Congress, it lists “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads,” as one of these – whereas further on it reads, “To provide and maintain a Navy” (italics are mine). So while it might be arguable (again, if we’re going to swallow hook, line, and sinker the idea that the Constitution possesses any validity at all, or ever did, for that matter) that the Framers’ intentions in 1787 were to allow the members of Congress to initiate the creation of a postal delivery system, it nowhere explicitly states that the government was to subsequently maintain one – as was clearly delineated regarding a navy.
Perhaps, then, this is why the USPS was quasi-autonomous, designed to operate predominantly on its own revenues. However, in addition to the price-fixing and centralized planning powers handed to government by virtue of its violence-enforced monopoly, bailing the USPS out with taxpayer dollars has always been a presidential prerogative. To date, only Jimmy Carter has exercised this option, in 1978. I fully expect that, barring a massive loosening of the government’s Marxian claw, this will occur again at no distant day.
In further refutation of the USPS’s faux motive to stay in operation for the welfare and benefit of rural America, here in southern Vermont I’ve had numerous recent discussions with a local postmaster. She has related to me a tale which is and should be incredulous to even the most hardened anti-government libertarian: Currently, no later than September of 2014, the hours at numerous post offices in the entire area will be pulled back to four hours a day, or less – and not all of that will include access to a window clerk. The lady in question, a 20 year USPS veteran, will be reduced to a part-time employee. Very part time. Perhaps hours in the single digits per week. Many services currently available no longer will be, from package shipment to certified and registered mail. Access to post office boxes for customers will be similarly limited, and it seems unlikely that the USPS will spring for magnetic passcards for after-hours access as is customarily now found at many post offices in more urban locations.
And to add vicious insult to injury, the current nature of this lady’s USPS position entitles her to no collection of Social Security benefits, ever – although she has paid the taxes all these years. She can collect no state unemployment, since her job is federal. And, she will not even receive the pension and retirement benefits she was promised years ago – since the USPS has now -- truthfully, for a change – decreed that it cannot afford to pay them to anyone other than those already currently retired. In short, the government strung her along all these years making promises it could not possibly keep. And now, this woman is up the creek. She’s far from alone.
The solutions to all of this are relatively easy. If the Congress were to repeal the law granting the USPS a monopoly, virtually overnight private industry would leap in to buy up USPS property and assets. Former employees would still receive their due, while current ones, with their prior experience, could be hired on immediately to maintain continuity of service to customers. With some minimal on-the-job retraining, services would continue and rapidly expand, while efficiency would radically improve and rates and costs significantly drop. One possible scenario I can envision would involve various carriers conglomerating at former USPS offices – similar to the way fast food chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC, as examples – may now all be found under one roof in many locales across the countryside. Hours would increase and improve, along with wages, salaries, and benefits. The demise of the preposterous law insulating the USPS could be nothing but a win-win for customers, and the economy.
Which brings us to the real reasons why it hasn’t happened. From the very earliest court cases dealing with the subject, going back to the end of the 1700s, the government’s openly stated reason – unlike today – for maintaining exclusive control over mail delivery has been to monitor communications. To retain the ability to spy upon and seize anything the populace may transit through the mail – be it seditious commentary, or verboten contraband. Indeed, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the armed police branch which virtually every government agency at the federal level now has a version of – from the FDA to the U.S. “Department of Education” (remember those military-issue 12 gauge shotguns they acquired with our money not too long ago?) – is poised to strike anytime if something government people don’t approve of is sent from A to B via their protectionist system.
Happily, history shows us that in spite of the most persistent efforts of governments to distort market activity, and those of state-socialists to try and help state-socialism to survive, in the end, these schemes all fail. Once again, we are about to witness history repeat itself.
I must say, for once, that’s something I’m looking forward to.