It's the end of the United States Postal Service as we know it. Rain, snow, and gloom of night may not have able to stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, but technical progress and a huge budget deficit apparently can.
I, for one, will miss the postal service. For decades the agency has served a useful purpose. I don't mean delivering my sewer bill. No, the USPS has long functioned as my chief example of the staggering ineptitude of governmental agencies.
Sure, there have been countless other instances of the federal government's legendary incompetence. The welfare system totally wrecked marriage, morals, and the underclass. Unless you were the Rev. Al Sharpton, a D.C. bureaucrat, or a drug peddler, welfare was a complete and utter disaster. And who can deny the wonders the U.S. Department of Education has done for our public schools since becoming its own cabinet-level department? Last, but not least, there are the perpetual and unwinnable wars on drugs and poverty. If America's conventional military conflicts were as successful as our government's metaphorical wars, there'd be a Russian tank and a diskoteka on every street corner in Kansas.
The U.S. Postal Service, however, has long been my go-to agency when I needed an example of government bureaucracy at its worst. Every time America would invade some godforsaken country like Afghanistan or Iraq, and pundits and politicians would start yapping about spreading democracy and nation building, I would ponderously mount my soapbox and proclaim: "What makes those Wilsonian knuckleheads in Washington think they can build a democratic republic in [blankistan] when they can't even run a lousy post office?"
And it is only getting worse. Today the situation is so dire the agency may soon eliminate Saturday mail delivery. This is fine by me. The only mail I receive these days are medical bills and circulars that go right into the wife's recycle bin, and that can certainly wait till Monday. Hell, it can wait till Tuesday.
The USPS may also close up to 3,700 postal locations. Also, fine by me. I seldom go to the post office, especially since they removed the stamp machine from the lobby. I suppose they did this so I would have the opportunity to stand in line for an hour to buy one lousy stamp. Now, where the stamp machine used to be, the postmaster has thoughtfully tacked to the wall a sheet of paper that reads: "Books of stamps can be purchased at the counter during business hours, or at the grocery store across the street." This is so I can make two stops to mail one letter. Not that it mattered. The machine was always out of order anyway.
The postal service's deficit will reportedly reach $9.2 billion this fiscal year. That's a lot of money to be in the hole even by Washington standards. Worse, the USPS may lay off nearly one-fifth of its work force, tossing 120,000 employees out of work, right on the brink of a double-dip recession.
Like any government monopoly, the USPS has always been inefficient, lethargic, and unprofessional. And those were its good points. Now it has gone completely bust, too. The reasons for this must be obvious. The agency has always given the unions whatever they asked for, including no-layoff clauses (nice guaranteed work if you can get it), the best health benefits in the country, and the right to wear funny shorts to work. Until June, the postal service was paying $115 million every two weeks to the Federal Employees Retirement System. Even Europe's quasi-socialist governments have been more pro-free market than the U.S., allowing competition and a mix of private and public ownership of their postal services.
The New York Times notes that unless Congress takes "emergency action" the USPS may shut down entirely this winter. Conservatives have been dreaming about privatizing the postal service for decades. Moreover, we now have email, faxes, text messages, and Federal Express. If there is still a need for snail mail, trust me, some ambitious entrepreneur will fill it. With the exception of the laid-off postal workers, I doubt most Americans would even notice its demise.
Personally, the biggest loss I will feel will be coming up with another example of supreme government incompetence.
Fortunately, there's still Amtrak.
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