Dead Men Walking

Post Office

What does the US Postal Service have in common with Bashar al-Assad? Both are dead men walking. No country will take the Syrian leader and his options are down to one, but if Congress got out of the way, USPS might be turned into a viable private company.

Different but viable. Problem is nobody likes different and what we are doing now is not viable.

Last year, USPS punted on a $5.5 billion payment to the US Treasury. It is due in two weeks. A month later USPS owes the Treasury $5.6 billion. Both payments relate to health care costs and both can be recast into a $2.5 billion annual payment over 40 years and a return of $11 billion from the Treasury.

Like mortgaging your house to buy food, that only works until the $11 billion runs out, then it doesn’t. The lowered health care payments only cover 85% of the annual losses.

The first vulture began sniffing around the Postal Service when FedEx became a verb. Others followed with the advent of email, texting, smart phones, electronic billing and payments and even Paperless Post for you daughter’s wedding invitation.  Does anyone get much of anything worth having by mail?

Some of the vultures might lose interest if you killed off Saturday delivery and more would fly elsewhere if USPS took a page from the 1970’s gas shortage and delivered to odd and even numbered zip codes only on odd and even numbered dates. Curiously, the Letter Carriers Union opposes this.

The current kerfuffle is about subsidizing, which money people hate, closing useless post offices, which rural elected officials hate and charging junk mailers the real cost of sending their junk, which junk mailers hate. Congress has to make a decision, which Congress hates.

The best chance of making all the vultures fly away would be to privatize the whole thing with no strings attached. Let the owner provide the services it can offer profitably, charge appropriately for its services, close extraneous facilities and do anything else a real business does without answering to the House and Senate. Universal service means everyone gets mail no matter where they live. Ending it would be a deal killer for privatization but, if you keep it, the value of selling USPS goes down.

Likely outcome? Bet on another punt. Zombies are very popular these days.

Bashar al-Assad would love that option.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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