Thursday, February 9, 2012

How To Save The U.S. Postal Service

The United States Postal Service was essentially founded in 1775, when the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General. It's primary purpose was, of course, to deliver main from one person to the next.

You know . . .letters.

In simpler terms, the US Postal Service was established to do what you computer does for you now, to deliver what might be called old-school e-mail.

The widespread use of e-mail began in the 80's and in the years since then it has become the most commonly used method of communication in America. If you don't have an e-mail address you can't communicate with the vast majority of the industrialized world. Your friends, your family, and even the companies you do business with communicate primarily through email, and now text messaging, which is a version of the same.

When was the last time you took out a pen and paper, wrote a letter, stuck it in an envelop, licked a stamp and sent it off in the mail?

I'm guessing it has been quite some time.

That's the problem with the U.S. Postal Service. It provides a service that few of us actually need on a daily basis.

On December 5, 2011 the U.S.P.S. announced that it would be closing 252 of its 461 mail processing centers as well as 3,700 local post offices across the country. The move also put 28,000 people out of work.

Today CNN is reporting that there are even rougher times ahead for the U.S.P.S., which reportedly lost $3.3 billion over the last three months of 2011, which included the lucrative Christmas mailing season.  Now they're saying that if they can't slash employee benefits they could run out of cash and hit their $15 billion debt limit this year.

"Passage of legislation is urgently needed that provides the Postal Service with the speed and flexibility needed to cut costs that are not under our control, including employee health care costs," Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a statement. 

My question is this: Why are human beings so reluctant to accept change and the reality that change brings?

Over the past two decades the U.S.P.S. has been transformed from an outlet for people to stay in touch with each other to a conduit for credit card companies and advertisers to SPAM the hell out of our mailboxes six days a week. I have often joked that our neighborhood should just install paper recycling bins next to each bank of mail slots so that we could all use a version of direct deposit and never have to bring that crap into our homes.

Personal correspondence is no longer the primary mission of the postal service, and as such, is there really a need for six-day-a-week delivery?

Here's an idea: Since the U.S.P.S. is no longer needed to serve its original purpose, and the purpose it has adopted is an extreme annoyance, why not change the delivery schedule to three days per week? I think we can all wait an extra day or two to get that all-important credit card application, catalog, or desperate advertisement.

We definitely still need the U.S.P.S., even if it's in a limited way. We still need to send an occasional care package or birthday card, and we still need to be able to order our books and movies from Amazon (though that is quickly becoming a thing of the past in the age of digital downloads). But if the postal service is hard up for money they should re-think their business model and bring into the 21st century.

We don't need daily mail delivery, and most of what is delivered we could do without altogether.


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