Home Money Opinion: Postal Service was right to cut Saturday mailing

Opinion: Postal Service was right to cut Saturday mailing

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The iconic sitcom Seinfeld reminded America of the power the U.S. Postal Service has over our daily lives through its main antagonist known simply as “Newman.” Though with the news announced today that the USPS will no longer be delivering mail on Saturdays, Newman’s famous line “When you control the mail, you control information,” is proving less and less true as the world churns through the 21st century.

The cutback on Saturday mail is expected to begin in August and may save the service over $2 billion per year. As reported in Yahoo! News, post office boxes will continue to receive mail on Saturdays, just not homes and businesses. The move comes on the coattails of new statistics showing a 14 percent increase in package delivery since 2010 accompanied by a significant drop in basic mail due to the use of email and other electronic services.

Does this move prove that no one really needs mail? Even in the late 20th century, before Katie Couric knew what a “at” sign was, an exchange over mail cancellation between Newman and fellow Seinfeld character “Kramer” touched on this question. Bills? Those have gone digital. Cards and letters? Well we have email, telephones, fax machines, FedEx, telegrams and holograms at our disposal. Holograms haven’t quite caught on for information exchange outside of Star Wars and telegrams faded away before any of us could have the opportunity to say “STOP,” but the amount of outlets available to us in the 21st century for disseminating knowledge may indeed be rendering basic mail service useless.

The USPS sees things differently; they report that the problem is not due to reduced mail volume, but increased costs for future postal employee retiree benefits. This past year the agency reported a record loss of $15.9 billion, nearly triple the previous year, with $11.1 billion of that loss a result of the benefit costs. Remove those benefits and other related costs and the yearly deficit becomes a more manageable $2.4 billion, just higher than the $2 billion they are expected to save by cutting out Saturday deliveries.

These are not self-imposed wounds as one might infer, but instead are financial burdens delivered by Congress in 2006 requiring that the USPS create a $55 billion account for retirees by 2016. To try to curb this burden, the service has cut $15 billion in costs since 2006, cut its workforce by 193,000 (28 percent), and has been forced to shut down a number of locations.

Despite the shortsightedness of our Congress, it is the postal service that receives the brunt of criticism for seemingly drastic moves like today’s and not our lawmakers. Five-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader is guilty of being one of these misguided critics, calling out Postmaster General Patrick Donahue for continuing a tradition of “shooting” the service in the foot.

“Millions of customers who take advantage of its services will be harmed, mail service will be slowed, and the USPS’s current death spiral will deepen,” Nader released in a statement. Nader’s views similarly resemble those of former Vice President Richard M. Johnson who, in 1830, spoke in defense of Sunday mail delivery which was being challenged by evangelicals at the time.

“The mail is the chief means by which intellectual light irradiates to the extremes of the republic. Stop it one day in seven, and you retard one seventh of the advancement of our country,” Johnson argued. Congress listened. Johnson’s argument prolonged Sunday delivery until 1912 when it was finally outlawed for good. But where Nader and Johnson disconnect is in time, not thought.

Employee retirement benefits and an incompetent Congress were two things that existed in a lesser regard in 1830, and today the way we transfer information for our advancement has changed.

The decision made today by the postal service should be praised and not criticized. If only more government agencies took steps like these to not waste U.S. dollars while still striving for a high standard of service, our country would be better off. So through rain, snow, sleet and hail, trudge on postal employee Newman. We’ll see you on Monday.

 

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