Preserve the People’s Post Office: Let Us Do Meaningful Postal Reform

Yves here. In addition to the deliberate effort to make the Post Office look like a budget train wreck through misleading accounting, another impediment to the success of the Post Office is the curtailment of other potential revenue sources. Advocates of a Post Office bank forget that back in the days when there was such a thing, commercial banks successfully lobbied for limits, such as ceilings on account sizes, that greatly reduced its potential market.

Similarly, when I lived in Australia, every branch of Australia Post carried a decent selection of office staples: copy paper, mailing envelopes, masking and packing tape, folders, pens, markers, and blank CDs (they were more important then than now). The big ones had cards, including a nice selection of Christmas cards at holiday time.

By Mark Jamison, a retired postmaster who serves as an advisor and regular contributor to Save the Post Office. He can be contacted at His posts can be found in a digital book here. Originally published at Save the Post Office

It is said the Postal Service is mired in debt, that it is unsustainable, a burden to the American people. This is the position of the current postmaster general, supported by the board of governors who hired him and by a treasury secretary who seems to be the chief architect of the current assault on a cherished national institution, goaded by a president who cares little for governing or the public welfare.

These claims are a lie, one that has been pushed repeatedly for at least fifty years by those who would steal an American asset and convert its public benefits into private profits.

If the Postal Service has large unfunded liabilities, it is as much because they have been defined as such by those who seek to look at this most American of institutions in a way that lays the most burdens upon its shoulders. The truth is that the Postal Service has incurred its liabilities in the service of a greater and necessary good. Far from being onerous and intractable, they are evidence of a skewed perspective, a perspective bent on being intentionally blind in furtherance of an ideology that denigrates and denies the validity and necessity of government.

If one begins with the premise that government is only a creator of debt, then the normative assumptions underlying the accounting systems designed to measure government will be weighted towards finding liability not value.

The Postal Service has employed as many as 800,000 Americans gainfully in jobs that paid living wage and  provided life-sustaining healthcare and secure retirements. These benefits rebound and reverberate through local economies, spreading both wealth and security. They have lifted many whose options were otherwise limited into productive middle-class lives while bringing communities together. And this has been done in the service of a noble and useful purpose, creating an essential infrastructure whose uses are limited only by a failure of imagination and political will.

As the USPS OIG observes in its report on The Postal Service’s Role as Infrastructure, “For much of its first 200 years, the Post Office not only carried mail but also was deliberately used by the government to bind together and develop the nation. It promoted transportation innovations, extended post roads, and subsidized passenger transportation on stagecoaches and railroads.”

This infrastructure is not indestructable, however.  As the OIG warns, “Once the existing Postal Service infrastructure is disassembled, it would likely be prohibitive to restore it as it is today. Only an agile and adaptive infrastructure will be able to maintain self-sufficiency and serve the nation effectively.”

Ideologies that embrace perverse interpretations of efficiency that serve to consolidate wealth and economic benefit in the hands of a few are built on a cruel deception. They further a false narrative designed to narrow opportunity and confine benefit to those who already possess power and privilege.

Those who see only the potential for reduction in costs of doing business reduce human potential, productivity, and flourishing to a zero sum equation. Their vision is a selfish one that sacrifices human and social benefit to individual profit, turning life into a false dichotomy of makers and takers that denies the fundamental human quality of contribution to community that all of us can make – something our Constitution calls “the public welfare.”

It has been claimed that the Postal Service has losses of billions of dollars but that is largely because the powerful interests who design the methods by which we count and measure worth hate the concept of public benefit.

Instead let us acknowledge the value inherent in a public infrastructure that binds the nation together bringing every home and business into a network that furthers economic and social profit while promoting national security.

Let us acknowledge the public benefits of universal service.

Let us acknowledge the benefits of preferential rates for newspapers and non-profits and the intercourse and discourse that enhance public interaction, discussion and participation.

Let us acknowledge the potential and myriad uses that are inherent in a magnificent network infrastructure.

The Postal Service and the postal network have been under attack for generations by those who see only their bottom lines as important. The crisis has been ongoing but recent events have made it inescapable. Their talk of losses and liabilities tells half the story in a self-serving way.

Now while this attack on a beloved and essential institution is front and center and beyond denial, let us tell the whole story and account for the assets of the network in an honest way. Let us talk of the economic, human and civic benefits that a truly public postal network encompasses.

Instead of confining this essential public asset into a narrow box of liabilities and demanding it fulfill a narrow myopic idea of being self-sustaining, let us seize this opportunity to define a people’s post office that sustains our ideals and communities with service, potential, and employment.

Now in this dark hour when the cynics and scions of the new gilded age would seek to destroy a public asset, let us demand real postal reform that preserves and expands a sacred national institution that can benefit generations to come.

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    1. lakecabs

      You hit the nail on the head. Why not have a USPS that breaks even?

      Raise rates on Amazon and that happens.

      Why does everyone want middle class taxpayers to support Amazon?

      1. chuck roast

        Did either of you read what the man wrote? The current polices of the USPS are the direct result of ruling-class take over and attempted make-over of a cherished institution. If the USPS contributes to turning your life to $hit please don’t point the finger at the poor schlubs who are humping the mail. Point your finger directly at the oligarchs and their enablers and demand that they pay the price for their thievery and criminal institutional abuse.

        1. cnchal

          The staff at the post office were just as stunned as this now ex customer at those rate increases. The looks on their faces when we said our final goodbyes was haunting.

          > Point your finger directly at the oligarchs and their enablers . . .

          I don’t have enough fingers and toes to point at all the miscreants, but here is a thought. That prefunded pile of pension money that was forced into existence is now ripe for the plucking. All it would take is a policy change, just like the policy change to use dimensional weight to calculate shipping prices, and suddenly there are fresh billions for the clever Pig People of Wall Street to strip.

          1. flora

            It’s almost like that prefunded pile of PO pension money is being used as a slush fund for the rest of govt spending. No, the Congress would never use prefunded PO employees’ pension payments wealth to balance the country’s budget, aka offsetting huge tax breaks for corps and billionaires by using prefunded (for 75 years) pensions balance. Excel is their friend. /meh.

            I’ll stop before I rant about the feckless, self-serving congress critters who don’t care about the US as a country.

  1. Christopher Herbert

    The primary cause of all this confusion is a complete ignorance of the federal government’s national accounts and how Congress funds its spending. Item One: The federal government is the creator of the currency with an iron clad monopoly. Everyone else is a user of the currency. Item Two: This currency monopoly means the federal government has absolutely no need to make a profit. It creates new currency every time it pays a bill. It has no need to borrow any money from anyone, foreign or domestic. Item Three: via its Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, the federal government dictates interest rates as well as being the major influence in supplying sufficient liquidity to the non government sector. There is no need to ‘break even’ when it comes to the federal government. Do we ask the Defense Dept. to ‘break even?’ If the Federal Reserve and Treasury decided to make money, they could put every private bank in the country out of business by next Friday. The One Percent know all this and they are just about finished with a fifty year revolution leaving the One Percent with ownership of all assets, including the government. That the public has no clue is the most brilliant part of this campaign.

    1. lakecabs

      So it is your position to continue to give Amazon lower rates than Mainstreet so Amazon can build an even bigger monopoly?

      Amazon pays less than everyone. Why?

      1. John Beech

        Why does Amazon pay less? Well, actually it’s Amazon customers who pay less. Moreover, it’s for the same reason United Health Care pays less for an x-ray than you or me when we’re in the hospital. Size engenders the ability to negotiate rates from a position of strength.

        Look, Mr. Christopher Herbert summarized this all exceedingly well and it has to do with how the system is working as intended to extract rents. You may as well complain about the sun rising in the east as wonder why some work so hard to extract them. Sheep grow wool and herders shear them. Same thing in life. Call it human nature.

        This all has to do with the lout sitting in the back of the class in 8th grade math making trouble instead of learning the Algebra. He is self-selecting for a job as a deliveryman or lawn tender instead of an accountant or engineer. Basically, his parents let him down by permitting such behavior after being warned by the system. Moreover, blaming the educators responsible for 150 kids is unrealistic. Same thing with Etsy owners moaning about the increased price of shipping wreaths across the country. After all, it’s their decision to self-sort into business owners of bulky near commodity goods.

        Hmmm, didn’t you learn anything as a child playing Monopoly? Recall how it always ended with someone getting angry and dumping the board to the floor so as to start the game over? The French did this in the 1790s with the aid of a nifty invention of Dr. Guillotine and his gentler method of execution (and it’s a distinct possibility in America as well in my view, hence the rush to purchase guns and ammo each time these things blow up).

        In fact, I was so concerned this was the case back in 2008 I sold a very low mileage Mercedes my wife adored and put her in a Honda (to avoid looking like the 1%). As this didn’t materialize she’s driving one again but I remain poised to disguise myself at the drop of a hat (not that I’m 1% but we’re probably 10%). The point being, civil disorder may come to pass on a larger scale than Portland and being prepared for the eventuality is simply a prudent course of action. Again, human nature.

        Finally, with regard to the rates being charged by USPS, this has a basis in reality. It costs more to transport a large package than a small one – duh! My business recognizes this and we carefully evaluate package sizing when deciding on product lines because delivery of same is a consideration. But honestly, we don’t care one flip for the rates because we pass them on.

        Along those lines, the reliance on claims of Free Shipping by some businesses is stupid in our view. Us? We simply endeavor to ensure shipping is not a profit center but instead, is one that pays its own way. Bottom line? The customer pays for the convenience because just as with taxes, they pass through the business to the consumer. Complaining that Amazon has negotiated better rates than we can is silly as they are responsible for thousands of times the bulk we will achieve in our lifetime in just one hour so it’s to be expected they have the ability to negotiate better rates. The winner is Amazon’s customer . . . e.g. you and me!

        Speaking of me; my hat is off to Jeff Bezos . . . I’m in total awe of his perspicacity to dream big and work to achieve it. Good for him.

        1. Offtrail

          It appears to me that Bezos’ personal motivation is to enhance his personal power and wealth without limit with little regard of how this affects others. A saner society would tax the shit out of him, and limit his ability to arbitrage his power to extract wealth from others.

          My hat is not off to him. Making the accumulation of extreme wealth your main object in life is not admirable.

        2. Aumua

          Maybe your hat should be off to his employees, without whom Bezos would not be wealthy nor achieve his ‘big dreams’.

          I also refer you to the story under today’s Water Cooler about poor working conditions at Amazon warehouses.

        3. cnchal

          > Finally, with regard to the rates being charged by USPS, this has a basis in reality. It costs more to transport a large package than a small one – duh!

          Looked at by the shipping company, whether USPS or UPS the variable that determines expenses is mass, from every press of the accelerator and brake to every step the driver has to take to finish a delivery, so charging prices based on package volume untill some arbitrary package density is reached and then goes by weight alone, is a scam.

          There once was a market in shipping. The peasant could go to the post office and avoid the corporate dim weight gouging..Not anymore.

          The wreath maker was destroyed by a policy change, but I do not care because I don’t make wreaths.

          The intricate blown glass maker was destroyed by a policy change, but I do not care because I don’t make intricate blown glass.

          The maker of large, light objects was destroyed by a policy change, but I do not crae because I don’t make large light objects.

          See where this is going?

      2. lyman alpha blob

        I think you are misunderstanding the point here. The fact that the USPS gives cheap rates to Amazon and jacks them up for everyone else is a deliberate attempt by the oligarchs who run this country and their lobbyists to make the USPS look bad so it can be shut down and service privatized.

        That’s why Amazon pays less than everyone else – our elected “leadership” would like to eventually hand over the remains of the USPS to Amazon and the like for pennies on the dollar.

        The post office doesn’t need to break even, as it isn’t a business and shouldn’t be run like one.

        It is a public service created to serve the public good, a concept very few of our elected “leaders” believe in any more unfortunately.

    2. Carla

      @Christopher Herbert — Best one-paragraph explanation of how a monetarily sovereign government works EVAH. Thank you!

      Posts like Mark Jamison’s and comments like yours give me hope for the human race.

  2. Tom Doak

    Who exactly decided to give Amazon the discount it receives? I thought our President was a great negotiator, how come he let the Post Office get taken advantage of?

    Or was that deal done by the Obama administration?

  3. sd

    Blame should lie with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 which the Democratic majorities first inherited by Barack Obama did nothing to repeal.

  4. jfleni

    Fix the USPS??
    1. Fire DEJOY!! Thank for your service! Have a nice day!
    2. New POSTMASTER Maybe BRENNAN who just retired but not some clod-hopper from the ranks of Monkey-Brain’s plutocrats.

  5. Anonymous

    In addition to the deliberate effort to make the Post Office look like a budget train wreck through misleading accounting, another impediment to the success of the Post Office is the curtailment of other potential revenue sources. Advocates of a Post Office bank forget that back in the days when there was such a thing, commercial banks successfully lobbied for limits, such as ceilings on account sizes, that greatly reduced its potential market. Yves

    While government should not be in the usury business*, the US Federal Government has an inherent monopoly on risk-free deposits and could and should charge non-individual-citizens (and citizens beyond a reasonable account limit) for that security.

    Of course, government deposit guarantees and other privileges for private banks negate that monopoly and are another reason to abolish them (along with ethical imperatives).

    *Since it violates equal protection under the law in favor of the so-called “creditworthy.”

  6. Paul P

    The US Post Office Enhancement and Accountability Act of 2006, which would be better named the Post Office Bankruptcy and Privatization Act, was passed unanimously in the
    Senate and passed in the House with only 40 dissenting votes.

    I believe people like the Post Office and would rally behind it were they given the chance. There are numerous online petitions, but no organizing that signs people up in the Congressional districts and demands that the representative support the post office or step down. The same lack of organizational focus is happening with Social Security, Medicare,
    and Medicaid. The Alliance for Retired Americans, a union group, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare do important work, but are not mobilizing on the street. A neighbor to neighbor push with a national registry of voters in each district would focus the diffuse support that exists for these programs and would bypass the Democratic and Republican Parties neoliberal attack on American living standards.

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