Who Owns the Post Office?

Yves here. This article describes how the creation of a misguided corporatized governance structure and undermining of public-interest-related objectives undermined the Post Office. The very fact that offices are being shuttered in rural areas that depend on the Post Office as a local anchor, leading to the death of communities, shows how far the modern Post Office deviates from its founders’ objectives.

By Mark Jamison, a retired postmaster. He can be reached at markijamison01@gmail.com. Originally published at Angry Bear

Who owns the post office?  Who is the post office designed to serve?  What is the system’s ultimate function?

These questions are fundamental to the future and the fate of the post office, the postal network, and postal services in this country. How we answer them will have a significant impact on businesses, workers, and communities.

We know the Constitution instructs — or more accurately, permits — Congress to make arrangements for post offices and post roads.  That is a good indication that the Founders sawpostal services and the infrastructure that supported them as broadly essential to the nation — nation in their reckoning being the sum of the people.

But Congress has abdicated its responsibilities.  It no longer functions as a deliberative body and has become increasingly ineffective as a legislative body.  The Postal Service’s Board of Governors has proven to be equally ineffective and has left postal managers to run operations as they see fit.  The regulatory system is relatively limited and not really able to represent the interests of the public as a whole.

All in all, the Postal Service is simply not accountable to the American people in the way it should be — or the way it must be if it is to survive as a vibrant public postal system, as envisioned by the Founders

In the debates about the Postal Service, the public interest is too often forgotten.  It’s worth quoting yet again the stirring words of Title 39:

The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. The costs of establishing and maintaining the Postal Service shall not be apportioned to impair the overall value of such service to the people.

If these words are to mean anything, the leaders of the Postal Service, Congress, and the Executive branch must be reminded that the Postal Service is there to serve not some narrow economic interests but the people of the United States.

The Vision of the Founders

There are only a couple of mentions of the post office in the Federalist Papers, the set of writings by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay which offered the explanation and underlying reasoning that supported the new Constitution.  In Federalist 42, Madison wrote:

The power of establishing post roads, must in every view be a harmless power; and may perhaps, by judicious management, become productive of great public conveniency.Nothing which tends to facilitate the intercourse between the states can be deemed unworthy of the public care.”(emphasis added)

Benjamin Franklin certainly had a great deal to say about the post office.  As one of the inspirational leaders of the new nation and its first Postmaster General, Franklin clearly saw the importance and value of a robust postal system.  Early in his career as a printer and publisher, Franklin was disadvantaged because a competitor, Andrew Bradford, used his power as a postmaster to deny Franklin’s papers access to the postal system — an act that impressed upon Franklin the importance of broad access to the post.  In his biography of Franklin, Walter Isaacson says that the benefit of Franklin’s tenure as colonial postmaster, greater than the compensation he received, “was that it furthered Franklin’s conception of the disparate American colonies as a potentially unified nation with shared interests and needs.”

The Founders clearly recognized that an infrastructure that could serve to bind the nation together was essential not only for the free flow of information but also as a means of enhancing commerce. Washington even argued that newspapers and journals should travel the mails for free, while Madison suggested their cost be subsidized but that as matter of economy there should be a charge.  Whatever the expectations on funding or self-sufficiency, it is clear that the Founders saw a need for a public post, a postal system that belonged to and served the American people broadly.


The American people built and paid for our postal system. We the people own the United States Postal Service. It’s as simple as that.

Yet beginning with the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act (PRA) and the reorganization of the system into a corporate-like structure, there has been an ongoing attempt by relatively narrow interests to co-opt, control, and ultimately dictate the direction of our postal system.

The PRA coincided with a time in American history when thinking was changing, moving away from the broadly inclusive economics of the New Deal towards a model of unadulterated self-interest that sought to privatize gains while undermining public goods and leaving losses to be socialized.

Milton Friedman’s dogma of shareholder interest was coming into vogue.  Even though corporations benefit from public systems like the rule of law, which uses the power of the state to enforce contracts, patents, and intellectual property protections, and even though they take advantage of public goods and infrastructure like the postal network or the interstate highway system, their only obligation, according to the Friedman dogma, was to their shareholders.  Communities, the environment, labor — all could be ignored or even damned in the pursuit of private profit and gain. Friedman devalued the idea of public goods and infrastructures, arguing instead that privatization should be the fundamental model.

It was the time of the Powell memo, a brief by future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell arguing that corporate America needed to actively take control of our political systems and our public dialogue in order to further its interests.

In the ensuing years we’ve seen our elections devolve into an unending quest for contributions, a system that more and more resembles “pay for play.”  We’ve seen a transition from a market economy to what political philosopher Michael Sandel calls a Market Society, a world where moral choices are squeezed out in favor of an ethic that puts a price on everything and makes everything for sale: consumerism not as a means to raise living standards but as a religion unto itself.

These shifts resulted in the Great Recession, the hollowing out of the American middle-class, and the emptying of broad-based opportunity into a narrow trough that primarily feeds Wall Street.

In 1968, just as this transition was taking shape, LBJ created Kappel Commission to come up with ideas for transforming and reorganizing the Post Office Department.  The commission was staffed largely by businessman and corporate leaders like its chair Fred Kappel, the retired chairman of AT&T.  Following the received wisdom of the time that the words “corporation” and “business” implied efficiency — an idea that went back to Frederick Taylor and his time-and-motion studies, which wrongly conflated process efficiency and the maximization of profit with efficacy and human flourishing — the Kappel Commission set about offering suggestions to reorganize the Post Office Department (POD) more along the lines of a corporation.

Much of what the Kappel Commission recommended became embodied in the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. The Act transformed the POD into the semi-autonomous United States Postal Service. The Postal Rate Commission became responsible for overseeing the rate-making process as well some customer-service issues. The PRA reorganization also gave general oversight of postal operations to a new Board of Governors.


The BOG was something akin to a corporate board, although in reality it lacked the accountability a corporate board has to stockholders.  After consultation with leaders of the House and Senate, members of the BOG were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  They could be removed only for cause. In other words, if they chose a direction for the Postal Service that conflicted with the broad interests of the American public, there was no way to hold them or the management of the Postal Service accountable.

Title 39 describes certain qualifications for members of the BOG in Section 202 (a)(1):

The Governors shall represent the public interest generally, and shall be chosen solely on the basis of their experience in the field of public service, law or accounting or on their demonstrated ability in managing organizations or corporations (in either the public or private sector) of substantial size; except that at least 4 of the Governors shall be chosen solely on the basis of their demonstrated ability in managing organizations or corporations (in either the public or private sector) that employ at least 50,000 employees. The Governors shall not be representatives of specific interests using the Postal Service, and may be removed only for cause.

While the idea that the BOG was to serve the public interest generally, the public interest was never clearly defined, and the PRA essentially reorganized the Postal Service as a corporate entity.

Initially the Act provided for some public support of the Postal Service through appropriations to support the universal service obligation and preferential rates for periodicals and non-profits. (Kevin Kosar, formerly of the Congressional Research Service, wrote a couple of reports that are quite useful: here and here.)  But those subsidies were intended to be phased out.

The PRA and subsequent legislation were designed to transfer the financial support of the postal network from the American people solely to mailers, although it did little to acknowledge the public’s large investment in the system or the fact that the postal network served as infrastructure and therefore had a much wider impact and benefit to the general public.

Ideally the BOG is supposed to reflect a broad public interest, but it is heavily weighted towards corporate types. For example, a recent past chair of the BOG, Thurgood Marshall Jr., was a well-connected Democratic operative and lawyer who was a founder and board member of Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison operators.  Is it a coincidence that the latest push towards privatization was sanctioned under Mr. Marshall’s watch?

If they aren’t corporate, they’re likely to be political insiders.  Other past and current members of the BOG include Dennis Toner, a former board member who was chief assistant to Vice President Biden; Ellen Williams, a current member, who was head of the KY Republican Party; and Mickey Barnett, the most recent chair, who was heavily involved in the New Mexico Republican Party.

The simple fact of the matter is that the BOG has never reflected the larger public interests.  For example, there don’t seem to have been any appointments who had a background in labor. There have been CEOs of large corporations, but there have been virtually no consumer advocates. Several academics have been nominated, but in almost every instance their focus has been on corporate economics and not public goods.

If the current organization of postal administration wasn’t bad enough, the Obama Administration has been absolutely horrible in making appointments to the BOG.  Currently there are only three out of nine appointed members serving, and two of them are in their grace year, meaning they are serving beyond their regular appointed term.  For the last several years, PMG Donahoe was essentially allowed to implement his vision for what postal services should be in this country without any meaningful oversight or accountability from the Board.

One of Mr. Obama’s recent nominations to the BOG was Vicki Kennedy (it’s not clear if she is still under consideration).  She might seem like a good choice to some Progressives, but the fact is that Mrs. Kennedy’s resume offers little comfort.  She is a well-connected Democrat who runs a consulting company that services “private clients on the development and execution of public and private strategies for their business needs.”

Mrs. Kennedy’s selection at least looks good in comparison to the nomination of James C. Miller III, a former governor who has testified before Congress in favor of postal privatization.  Earlier this week, President Obama nominated Miller to term as Governor, along with Stephen Crawford and current board member Mickey Barnett.  (More on the BOG in a future post.)

Even with these new nominations, given the administration’s pace in making nominations and the dilatory pace of the Senate in getting anything done, it isn’t likely we’ll have a full BOG for many months. For now, anyway, PMG Megan Brennan is pretty much the sole determinant of national postal policy.


In the absence of a strong BOG, some might look to the Postal Regulatory Commission to advocate on behalf of the broader public interest. But the PRC has a fairly narrow purview, which pretty much limits it to oversight to the rate making process, in keeping with its previous incarnation as the Postal Rate Commission.  The PRC does have a function for addressing rate and service complaints on its website, but in many if not most cases these complaints are simply forwarded to the Postal Service for resolution.

The PRC does collect statistics on these complaints, and it issues a monthly report about the complaints that have come through its system. The statute gives the PRC the ability to open a public inquiry if a particular complaint continually arises, but to my knowledge they have never done so.  Over the last several years we have seen continual incidents of the Postal Service bullying people into surrendering house or curb boxes for cluster boxes, and there have been many issues related to declining service standards, post office relocations, post office lease suspensions, and the like.  But the PRC’s ability to confront these issues has been limited.  In fairness, the Commission is largely constrained by both limitations built into the law and its own lack of resources.  There have also been efforts by some in Congress to marginalize the role of the PRC even further, as demonstrated by the Carper-Coburn bill last year, which would have pretty much taken the PRC out of regulating postal rates.

In its rate cases and in the general service “N” cases, the PRC does have a mechanism for providing some protections for the public. Its public representative system assigns a PRC staff member to every case, whether it be rate reviews, N cases, or post office closure appeals.  Former Chairman Ruth Goldway has often touted the public representative system, as she did in this article in Federal Times.

As much as I respect Ms. Goldway, I find her faith in this flawed system misplaced. There’s no clear definition of what the public’s interest is, which leaves it somewhat up to the individual filling the PR position in a particular case to decide what their role will be. Worse, the PRC’s OIG office is all but inactive, which means there is no consistent independent review of the effectiveness of the program.

When the PRC was hearing the appeal on the closing of the Glenoaks post office in Burbank, California, back in 2013, the PR was quoted in the press supporting the closure because the Postal Service was ““hemorrhaging money.”  Rather than defending the community’s interest in keeping their post office, the PR said, “I understand the petitioners are upset, but they have multiple options. They live in a metropolitan area” where there are other nearby locations to do postal business.

In the Friestatt, MO closure case, the PR assigned to the case did a yeoman’s job, but she was undermined by her office, which interfered with the filings from the folks in Friestatt and removed documents without notice.  (Some of these issues were raised in this postsuggesting changes to the system.)

Probably the worst failure of the PR system was in the POStPlan docket.  In this important general service case that looked at service reductions in thousands of post offices, the PR put up virtually no defense, and he refused assistance and information that might have helped in better exploring the Postal Service’s proposals.

To be fair, it should also be noted the POStPlan case was complicated by the fact that both NAPUS and the League of Postmasters chose not to participate as a result of a deal they had made with postal management.  After years of claiming that their greatest concern was for the American public and small town postal services, the two organizations sat on their hands.

The system review at the PRC really relies on concerned participation by outside entities. In the POStPlan docket the PR would have been overwhelmed even if he had been more assiduous in developing the case.

Overall the people who serve as Public Representative make a commendable effort, but they are hamstrung by lack of resources and a clear mandate. The unfortunate fact is that the way the statute constructs and empowers the PRC, it is not the best vehicle for representing the American public generally.

The Postal Advisory Council

There was one interesting element of the PRA that gave at least some recognition to the idea that the postal system and network were broadly owned by and designed to service the American public. Section 206 of the original act created a Postal Advisory Council. The PAC was to consist of representatives of labor, representatives of the mailers, and members of the public at large. The PAC would have brought stakeholders directly into the process, and more importantly, provided representation for a broad range of consumer interests, which would have created a counter balance to the BOG.

Sadly, the Postal Advisory Council was never constituted, and no appointments were ever made.  Then in 1975, the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), a law designed to eliminate unnecessary boards and commissions, wrote the PAC out of existence.  In 2008, the APWU sued in an attempt to renew the council, but its effort was dismissed out of hand by the DC District Court.

Given our current political and social environment, it is possible and even likely that the PAC would have been ineffective.  Still, it may have served to bring more voices to the table.  More importantly, it might have been able to focus on the broad public policy and consumer issues that the current leadership of the Postal Service has intentionally ignored in their unrelenting effort to outsource and degrade postal infrastructure. At this point, there are really no mechanisms in place to attend to the broader public interest.

The Grand Alliance

So who looks out for the broad public interest in postal matters? The sad fact is that there is no institutional entity that has the statutory power or wherewithal to fill what is perhaps the most essential task in determining how we use and maintain our critical postal infrastructure.

There has been one recent interesting development, however.  The attempts of the APWU and its president Mark Dimondstein to create a grand alliance of consumer and labor groups might have an impact on how we protect, restore, and renew our postal infrastructure.  This alliance is the subject of an excellent article by David Morris on Alternet.

Morris asks the question: Can One Union Save the Slumping Postal Service? Unfortunately, I think the answer has to be a qualified maybe.

Mr. Dimondstein’s ideas are both brilliant and ambitious, but the fact is that unions have evolved to take care of their members first and foremost. There is nothing wrong with that, of course.  This is a basic responsibility of a union.  Just as capital assembles itself in the form of a corporation in order to benefit its shareholders (at least that is the modern view, one worth disputing), labor assembles to defend and protect its interests. I would argue that in both cases the entities have broader obligations, but in today’s environment of individualism to the exclusion of all else it is difficult to imagine returning to a time when our institutions looked out for the broader societal interests.

Whether the APWU can pull off the sort of broad-based alliance that genuinely attempts to address the broad public interests at stake in the future of postal infrastructure is open to question. I recently participated in a conference call of those interested in postal banking. I was disappointed to hear some of the participants so focused on their own pet issue that they were unable to understand the current problems related to the degradation of the postal network. They seemed to see an opportunity to advance their cause without seeing the broader picture. Some hadn’t done their homework and didn’t seem to understand the regulatory and administrative structures they were going to need to address, instead seeming to believe that it was simply a matter of political will and merely piggy backing their project on a creaking and unresponsive postal management structure.

As I’ve written in previous posts (here and here), as we go forward with trying to find ways to develop and utilize the postal network and postal infrastructure, we need to recognize the flaws in the current organization of the Postal Service.  Simply layering new services on top of a crumbling foundation is a prescription for failure.  Still, I think that Mark Dimondstein is right in the general vision he expresses.

Someone needs to speak out in the interest of the general public on postal issues. Someone needs to be accountable for the investment we, as a nation, have made in postal infrastructure.

Corporations have come to view the world through the prism of the next quarterly report, and to some extent labor and unions, while fighting a holding action, have come to view the world through the prism of the next contract.  That may have been Cliff Guffey’s greatest failure.  Mr. Dimondstein seems to understand that our future lies in the restoration of an ethic that views common purpose and public goods as a positive good, that sees beyond the next bonus or contract.

The General Welfare

The state of the Postal Service is an almost perfect reflection of the state of American society. The postal network is an integral part of America’s infrastructure, and like much of that infrastructure, the network is crumbling — partly from a lack of political will but more from a cynical individualism that masks the ascendance of narrow and elite economic interests.

The Founders sought to balance our inherent drive for individual initiative with the need for a larger civic engagement and commitment.  The phrase “general welfare” does not appear in the Constitution accidentally nor is it merely incidental to the construct of American freedom.  A necessitous people are not a free people.  An economy that ignores public goods like infrastructure is a prescription for special interest, limited advantage, and civic isolation.

The postal infrastructure was built by and for the American people.  It remains essential and useful, and it possesses tremendous possibility for the future as a conduit for additional services that both support and maintain legacy systems that millions still rely on.

We must think about renewing and restoring the capacity and capability of the network. It has been undermined and degraded by an empty and self-serving ideology that disdains public goods and common purpose. We have seen the same sort of degradation to our physical infrastructures like roads, bridges, and water and sewer, often in the name of privatization. Our schools are threatened by an increasing corporate encroachment that sees revenue potential not public utility.

After a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, we think it perfectly appropriate to do more than clean up, to do more than settle. We talk about rebuilding and restoring, about renewal.

Well, there was nothing natural about the disaster of Hurricane Donahoe, but our response has to be the same as it would be to a natural disaster: Rebuild, Restore, Renew.  The postal network, its capacity, and capability, the standards, the jobs, the infrastructure — they are all in need of our commitment.

In order to do that, we must have a postal management and administrative structure that is accountable to the American people.

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  1. Carla

    “The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. The costs of establishing and maintaining the Postal Service shall not be apportioned to impair the overall value of such service to the people.”

    Sounds like the Internet to me. Just imagine if we had high-speed Internet available at minimal cost all over the country, as so many other nations do. Actual infrastructure, actually serving We the People. David Lazarus suggested this direction for the US Postal Service in a Feb. 2013 article:


    1. wbgonne

      Absolutely. We should envision and then implement a society where the commons is redefined and restored. The basic necessities of civilized modern life — health care, clean water, internet access, electricity, safe and healthy food, shelter, a dignified retirement — should all be provided as part of the commons. This may actually reinvigorate the economy by freeing people to secure work that is not tied to benefits and relieving companies of the burden of providing those benefits.

      1. Mitchell Shapiro

        I agree with Carla and wbgonne, and would add public banking (which I believe the USPS used to do) to the list of basic infrastructure/commons services provided by the Post Office. As I see it, the post office and postal road references in the Constitution are clear evidence that the Founders appreciated the importance of these basic services, though they may not have been able to envision the scope and complexity of modern American society. Applying that core wisdom to modern life is the task of citizens and political leaders today. I think your two brief comments get to the crux of it pretty concisely.

        One thing I’d also tie this to is an appreciation of MMT/functional finance as a foundational set of economic insights related to public investment in infrastructure and support for “commons services.” If the austerian “we can’t afford public investment” belief remains widely accepted, the public education and political mobilization tasks will be more challenging than they need to be, at least as I see it.

        1. Carla

          Yes, the US Postal Savings System operated from 1911 to 1967:

          Many countries’ postal services offer banking services.

          My only hesitation about this has come from people on this site and elsewhere proposing postal banking as a great way for the USPS to make money. No. Public banking is not supposed to be a “profit center.” Public banking is supposed to serve the PUBLIC.

      2. lyman alpha blob

        In theory having the Post Office provide free internet access for all is a great idea.

        In practice I think we’d need some new interwebs first that aren’t infested by the NSA….

    2. Fair Economist

      I was going to say something to this effect as soon as I read Yves’ post. I didn’t realize the explicit big goals in founding the Postal Service. It certainly was never intended to just deliver mail and packages.

  2. sd

    Great writing. I don’t think its a coincidence that the PAC was never constitututed. It included representatives of labor and pretty much anything having to do with labor has been marginalized or shut out all together.
    This nation needs a country wide organized labor strike to remind itself that it’s greatest asset is its citizens.

  3. Jeremy Grimm

    @Carla: The Postal Service is the quintessential means tying us together as a nation. Upon it, came the best argument for building roads and further means for communications. Upon it rests a basic principle of government serving the public good. Ben Franklin’s experience with the colonial post office warns what private control over the Postal Service brings.

    “Sounds like the Internet,” … like the canals and waterways, like railroads, like telephones wired and wireless, like roads and Interstate highways … like all means for transport of goods and ideas. But at the base, the foundation for all these, the United States Postal Service. In private hands, unconstrained by iron control holding these key services accountable for the public good we will all be the cold mercies of Corporate Monopoly. Ask Ben Franklin, or farmers in the Midwest shipping their grain. Ask yourself as you transit private toll roads and toll bridges built with public monies and handed to private interests by our corrupted political system.

    Priests of the Golden Calf despoil fruits of the tree. Now they would destroy its roots.

  4. Howard Beale IV

    It’s actually a no-brainer that the USPS should be allowed to deliver the internet to all communities. After all, every email server has a postmsater address…

  5. Jeremy Grimm

    As the fine essay of this post makes clear the USPS has been undermined with meticulous patience and diligence. It’s management structures, its mission to serve the public good, even the very concept of a public good all have been whittled away by years of neglect and abuse. And the USPS is not alone in subjugation to this relentless amputation and atrophy. I believe the USPS is where we as a people must draw the line.

    We know this degradation of our values and way of life is wrong. We know how and where it is wrong. What can we do to fix things? Who should we write to, email, call? What can we do to defend and support the USPS? Who and what organizations should be targeted for shunning — for embargo and protests. Who and what organizations should face public shame? How can we make soulless creatures feel that shame and feel sufficient pain to guide their retreat? I already wrote to all the Congressman and both Senators of my state for what little purpose that served. What next? I haven’t the wealth to buy the good wishes of the government.

    1. Carla

      In the article above, Jamison hyperlinks a previous article of his that discusses the Powell memo, thus:

      “In 1971 Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer and member of eleven corporate boards, wrote a memo to the Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Two months after he submitted the memo, Powell was nominated to the Supreme Court. The memo was essentially a diatribe against American Liberalism and a call for action from American corporate and business interests. It recommended a concerted effort to develop an intellectual infrastructure that would support the interests of American corporatism.

      The Powell memo has often been credited as the birthing document of the web of think tanks, associations, and groups that advance conservative thought in this country. Another consequence of the memo was a renewed focus on capturing government and making it work directly for the interests of corporate elites.”

      David Cobb covers the importance of the Powell memo in “Citizens Divided Debate – David Cobb v. James Bopp”

      “Citizens Divided: Corporate Money, Speech, and Politics”
      Indiana University in Bloomington hosts a public debate between David Cobb of Move to Amend’s National Leadership Team and James Bopp, General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech and lead attorney for Citizens United. Published Sep 10, 2014.

      Intros are a little long; the “debate” begins at 7:57. Worth a look-listen.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Thank you for the links. I downloaded the video to view later (the speakers on my computer a broken so I have to save videos to a stick and view them on my flat screen.)

        While Citizens United is definitely an important issue and passing an amendment to overrule the Supreme Court, an amendment is a tall order. By the time there’s an amendment the USPS will be gutted and like Humpty Dumpty or our trolley systems, there will no easy way to put the pieces together and restore what we have lost.

        We know the disease but what is the remedy?

        1. Carla

          Please recall: it took 72 years of concerted activism for women to get the vote in this country. Thousands and thousands of people who worked for the female franchise died before they ever saw it become law. Yes, it’s hard to amend the Constitution. Rightly or wrongly, it was designed that way.

          The “We the People” amendment at http://www.movetoamend.org does much more than just overturn Citizens’ United. It abolishes the doctrines of corporate personhood and money as speech. The implications are profound.

          I believe I have this choice: I can either give in to nihilism, or apply myself to working for constructive change. Personally, I cannot think of anything I would rather work toward than the creation of an actual democracy for the first time in the history of the world. Yeah, I know. Idealistic as heck. But I’ll be dead soon enough and it’ll be somebody else’s problem.

  6. RUKidding

    Anything that has to do with the commons or for the good of the proles has been carefully, albeit somewhat slowly, dismantled/destroyed/messed up over the years. Along with that has been a very deliberate propaganda campaign about how various public services are just too gawd-awful to contemplate, plus they cost just too darn much money, they’re not run well AT ALL, and the citizens employed in public services are, one & all, lousy lazy slackers who want something for nothing and are completely incompetent and clearly paid way too much.

    Almost without fail, when I stand in line at the PO, some angry citizen – typically an older white male – will vent and fulminate over how terrible the USPO, esp given that he has to wait a few minutes on line to get service. I get hear the usual diatribes about the perfidy of Unions and how the PO “does nothing” and so on.

    When sometimes I point out that sending anything – letters, packages, etc – by FedEx or UPS costs a heckuva lot more money – and may not get to destinations any faster – the angry citizen just foments more about costs and fees and lack of service. Clearly there’s no logic in play here. It’s all emotional as finely tuned by the usual suspects – mainly the rightwing media (which is nearly all of it these days).

    The crooks we “elect” to “represent” us in the District of Criminals are just vultures circling around the USPO picking off what they can for their own personal gain and benefit. My understanding is that not-really-my Senator, DiFi’s hubby is one of the bigger crooks in terms of pillaging the closed USPO buildings and land for his own naked greed and profit. Screw the trash out in the boonies… let them take meth until they rot and die, I guess.

    Most US citizens really don’t give a stuff anymore about any of this and tend to rant on cue about how “we” can no longer “afford” such services as the USPO… all the while clapping and cheering for the next War, Inc somewhere else. Confounding. I have no idea how to resolve this in any way that is fruitful for the 99s, who really don’t seem to give a stuff anymore (which is the goal).

    1. JoeK

      If I complain about USPS service, it’s because:

      It’s not so much cheaper than FedEx or UPS any more. Int’l shipments are now EMS only! No cheaper surface mail for overseas possible.

      The USPS has lost a number of my packages over the years. The last two times I appeared at my PO with the orange cards and the packages hadn’t been re-delivered, nor were they being stored at the PO, i.e. lost, the staffs’ lack of helpfulness or concern was appalling. It was obvious they didn’t give two rat sh*ts about losing my property.

      The lines are usually long because there are never enough people working at one time to serve the number of customers waiting. Often the majority of stations are unmanned, until a PO worker slowly ambles back to his/her station and slow as mollasses in January sets things up and then with an absolute and studied apathy in their voice announces “next.”

      And so on. The service sucks and the “old white men” complaining about it are in fact the only non-sheeple in the room. IMO one of the biggest obstacles to returning the USA to a shadow of its former self is that we’re a nation of people too cowardly to raise our voice in complaint in public (say nothing of doing something beyond that). We’re full of spit and vinegar online, but if you point out or even hint at, for example, the execrable service and even attitudes (the attitude of the “iron rice bowl,” I know it well) of many PO employees to their face, the essential reaction you can see and feel around you is extreme discomfort, as most people are afraid first and foremost of rocking the boat.

      As with leaders, we get the services we deserve, so the sorry state of the USPS is pretty much a commentary on the sorry state of our society as a whole.

      1. Lambert Strether

        None of what you describe has happened to me where I live (Maine) or where I used to live (central Philly). What you are seeing is the symptoms of a demoralized workforce — which the people who want to destroy the Post Office are doubtless quite happy to have produced. You can blame the workers all you want — and with “slow as mollasses,” “studied apathy” you certainly take a good deal of pleasure in doing — but this is a management problem.

  7. susan the other

    We need a Postbank. Not just a communication network. One with an existing infrastructure, trusted, and trustworthy, a government agency which belongs to us all – and located right on Mainstreet USA in every little town. And next time the grid gets fried by a huge solar flare and everybody’s computer goes down, we will be so lucky to have a post office. It would also be a good act of insurance to keep the telegraph system in rudimentary form, no? And right next to the telegraph office, there should a bay of computers for emails. The only thing we should do to limit the post office is stop with all the advertisements. I don’t rent a PO Box to get that crap. And it is a terrible waste of trees in an age of internet commerce.

  8. Jeremy Grimm

    While I agree that a Postal Bank is a very good idea both serving the public and bringing income to the USPS — as the author of today’s post stated — a Postal Bank and similar ideas cannot be allowed to direct concern away from the more pressing matters of correcting for a USPS management hostile to the mission of the USPS. Without new management, a Postal Bank is as doomed as a small Post Office in Podunk Nebraska. The very concepts of a public good and a government capability and mandate to serve the public good have been assiduously attacked and undermined to the point that even growing portions of the general public seems to willingly even nonchalantly accept neoliberal destruction of a most fundamental government service like the USPS.

    The US Postal Service is a Service not a business, not a revenue center, not a cost center. It is a necessary service for the cohesion our nation. As you suggest there are many ways the Postal Service could and should be expanded. How? Is the question. But first, how can the USPS be saved and restored?

    At risk of criticism, here are some ideas — identify key points of contact within the management bodies identified in the post and email, snail mail and call with our concerns about the deconstruction of the USPS. Identify which corporations are pushing the agenda, and in lieu of that, which corporations might benefit if the USPS were dismantled. Boycott their services and/or products. Take every opportunity to express distaste, anger and a desire for vengeance on these Corporations to their every employee (make sure you make clear you hold your vehemence for their employers and management — not them personally). Visit your local Post Office and express your support for the USPS. Better, express that support in writing and if possible get it posted on the bulletin board or wall at your Post Office. When you receive mailers from your Congressmen or Senators or President send those mailers back to them. Ask them how they can justify their franking privileges given the ways they have failed the USPS, and tell them the ways.

    I’ll repeat an idea I put into a past comment regarding the USPS — the Postal Union should get Kevin Kostner to act as a spokesman and sell copies of the Postman DVD and Brin’s Sci-Fi book to earn money for the union. They are fighting their fight for us too!

  9. Jeremy Grimm

    Born in Southern California but now living in the Northeast, considerably South of Boston but still within scope of today’s storm, and while warm inside without any need to go out — as I watch it fall this snowfall is soft and beautiful beyond description.

  10. direction

    Thank you so much for mentioning the rural post office issue in your introduction! In my rural area the “city” has about 5 post offices, and so the number of rural post offices outnumbers the city’s. Perhaps rural post offices serve fewer people so it looks like a no brainer, close some of those. But it’s not math, it’s psychology. Closing one post office in the city slightly inconveniences a whole lot of people, but closing a rural post office and forcing people to make a 2 or 3 hour round trip drive when they need to get to the post office is just horrible.

    The rural post office is a source of employment, a gathering place, it is often attached to a general store where people are around talking with each other. It is a source of pride for a community.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I’ve driven through many towns in the middle of farm or ranch country whose only indication of the town’s presence were a sign, a few silos by the rail and most prominently — the Post Office. I can’t speak from living in a so small a town, but from main street the importance of the local Post Office was plainly evident. This is a part of America I don’t want to lose.

  11. Mcoen

    USPS is a communications network subject to Metcalfe’s Law. Reducing nodes (post offices and other points of presence) is foolhardy because the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2). (See Wikipedia for description of Metcalfe’s Law.)

  12. MRW

    How many tens of millions did Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband make selling off US Post Offices, prime real estate in every town or city? He got a no-bid contract on that.

    And why weren’t these post offices given over to the community to decide what they wanted to do with them?

  13. Jeremy Grimm

    I sent an email to Postmaster Mark Jamison much earlier this evening asking “Where else should I send my ire after sending letters to the Congressmen and Senators of my state?” and promised to share his answers with Naked Capitalism. I was just now checking my email — his response had been almost immediate:

    “In the Senate the Homeland Security subcommittee chaired by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has oversight. They’ve been working on a reform bill for years although it’s terrible. Carper of Delaware is the ranking Democrat and he has not been good.

    In the House the committee formerly chaired by Darryl Issa, Government Oversight has jurisdiction. Mark Meadows of North Carolina chairs the subcommittee.

    Perhaps the first place to start is with President Obama. Sad to say that the administration has been horrible on this issue. Former OMB director Peter Orszag wrote an op-ed in Bloomberg calling for privatization of the Postal Service.

    The mailing industry has a lobbying group called PostCom. Their members include printers, direct mailers, and companies like Pitney Bowes. This group has advocated for privileged rates.
    FedEx, UPS, and maybe worst of all Amazon have been doing their best to capture the Postal Service as well.

    You can find reporting on this at http://www.savethepostoffice.com, the website I contribute to.
    People tend to think of the postal network as a victim of technology but as I point out in this piece this is much more about public goods. We are seeing our infrastructures transferred into corporate hands. We are seeing our schools and educational institutions turned into profit and rent seeking entities. It’s all part of the same problem.

    Raising awareness, not just in terms of postal infrastructure but on the broader threat is critical.

    Again thank you for taking the time to read the piece and for understanding how important this is.”

    1. Carla

      What a wonderful response from Mark Jamison! I mean wonderful in that he responded quickly and fully and substantively, not that he had good news. But we knew that. Thank you for writing to him directly.

      You highlighted: “We are seeing our infrastructures transferred into corporate hands. We are seeing our schools and educational institutions turned into profit and rent seeking entities. It’s all part of the same problem.” I would also highlight Mr. Jamison’s next sentence: “Raising awareness, not just in terms of postal infrastructure but on the broader threat is critical.”

      And of course, we must not only raise awareness, but act on same:

  14. Jeremy Grimm

    To my mind the United States Postal Service is the Crown Jewel, the symbol, the icon of all public commons created at the founding of our Nation. The looting and pillaging must stop here. I feel it’s important to reiterate this statement from Postmaster Jamison’s response:

    “People tend to think of the postal network as a victim of technology but as I point out in this piece this is much more about public goods. We are seeing our infrastructures transferred into corporate hands. We are seeing our schools and educational institutions turned into profit and rent seeking entities. It’s all part of the same problem.”

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