There’s a political tragedy happening in America, and very few people are talking about it.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) just announced its intentions to launch a clothing line in an effort to save itself from insolvency. The licensing deal with an Ohio-based clothing company would produce an apparel line called “Rain, Heat & Snow” – all-weather clothing that includes "wearable electronics."
This may seem like a comical last stand for an agency few people think is worth defending, but the USPS is far from deserving our apathy or cynicism. Despite the common jokes about the Postal Service being an inefficient bureaucracy, a breeding ground for crazy workers or an outdated competitor to FedEx/UPS, the service has actually run incredibly efficiently for decades, and at no cost to tax payers.
The real reason that the USPS is struggling financially, is that in 2006, Congress forced them to sideline vast sums of money into a fund that paid retirement benefits to their employees – even those who haven’t yet retired. This is an incredible financial burden no other company in America has to endure, and makes it impossible to stay competitive. It counts among many congressional strategies used to "starve the beast," including the generalized idea that cutting taxes will deprive government agencies of funding and force reduction in spending – as we’ve seen, the actual result is usually a dramatic increase in public debt.
Congress wants to champion private companies like FedEx and UPS, but won’t allow a public company like the USPS to compete fairly by being in charge of its own business model. They force it to fail and in turn try to make all government agencies look bad. Those obsessed with privatization are often blinded to the benefits of public service – a scaled economy that provides a quality service for everyone regardless of their situation, and is answerable to the public rather than profit margins.
Appointing department heads to purposely undermine government institutions, is like trying to prove crime rates are high by mugging people in the street and saying "look how easy that was."
It’s a shame that we’re on the brink of losing one of America’s oldest institutions, one that bound all the states together in communication for over two centuries. The internet may have taken a chunk out of the practices of letter writing and billing, but there will always be a need for package delivery, and the USPS should be given a fighting chance to compete.