Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Return to sender

Will FedEx or UPS get mail to Santa?
The U.S. Postal Service is a perfect example of what ails America.

We want relatively cheap mail service delivered to every nook and cranny in America's dominion, but we don't want to pay the full freight of that service.

The USPS is billions in debt and wants to close 3,700 post offices, including 41 in Oregon, and consolidate 252 service centers. Portland would gobble up Bend's center and its 17 jobs.

 Closing the mail-processing center in Bend would save about $2.1 million and, instead of next-day service, it would guarantee two- to three-day  delivery for mail sent within our city limits.

But, it looks like such drastic measures are put off again until next May, so legislators can find a solution.

Reducing the Postal Service workforce through layoffs and attrition would result in about 200,000 less jobs in an election year.

Not gonna happen.

Teabaggers and other extreme conservatives want to shut down the Postal Service altogether, claiming that FedEx and UPS can do a much job better anyway.

Well, a few inconvenient facts get in the way.

FedEx isn't cheap. When I tried to mail a small package to the capital of Costa Rica, the Postal Service said it would cost $45 including tracking. I said, wow!

So, I went up the road to FedEx and they gave me a song and dance about how difficult it is to mail anything to Central America, but that they could try provided all the necessary paperwork was filled out. Cost. $150.

I mailed it through the Postal Service for $24 without tracking.

FedEx and UPS do not deliver to every little outpost in America. They may go hither, but not yon. Only the Postal Service does that.

In fact, the Postal Service's biggest customers are FedEx and UPS.

Some have this notion that the invisible hand of the marketplace solves all problems. (That, and tax cuts, of course)

Well, if we get rid of the Postal Service, many places would no longer get any mail and it would cost significantly more for the rest of us. Talk about "going postal."

Yes, the Postal Service has pension obligations that are draining its coffers. But, I'd rather see money go to retired postal workers than to hedge fund managers. Just saying.

Technology and the Great Recession have hit the Postal Service hard. Volume is down, while costs soar, thanks to high oil prices. But, a first-class stamp costs just 44 cents. In much of the developed world, the cost is at least double that. Does anyone think FedEx or UPS would deliver anything for 44 cents? it would be at least a couple of dollars.

In January, the cost of a first-class stamp will soar all the way up to ... 45 cents. Hey, a penny here and a penny there and we may have enough to keep Saturday delivery, not that all those credit card applications couldn't wait until Monday.

Of course, if we could just tax each stock share transaction a mere 1 cent, we could solve funding problems of the Postal Service. Forget that, let's shoot the moon and go for a whopping 2 cents per share transaction and we could help save Medicare. And a bonus: It could limit speculative stock trading which has destabilized the worldwide economy.

But, the Postal Service will likely limp along with diminishing results.

As they say in Washington, if it's broke, for heaven's sake, don't fix it. Use it as campaign fodder.

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