By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. If you were around in 1961 and were of a teen-age disposition, your trips to the soda shoppe were frequent and your search for The Sound was never-ending, punctuated as they were by gales of laughter, the hope for a class ring from that special someone bestowed during your special song; the someone you later you married only to discover he (or she) had feet of lead and no rhythm whatsoever.
One of your “finds” was The Marvelettes and you thought their catchy little tune, “Please Mr. Postman“, was to die for. Now Mr. Postman himself is on his last legs. I know he’d appreciate it if you sent him good wishes. Just don’t use email. It’s already killing him. You’ll find the song in any search engine. Please play it now and consider: it is a eulogy for an American institution.
Some postal history and perspective.
As human institutions go the creation and institutionalization of the post office is very recent history. And like so many great events of the time, it was born thanks to that patriot brainiac Benjamin Franklin who in 1775 became first Postmaster General of the United States. Franklin was after all the consummate communicator. A publisher, businessman, as well as polished diplomat and cunning revolutionary; he knew that the nation would never grow to its territorial greatness and full potential without the latest in communications.
And so, he helped organize what became in due course the pride of the democracy and necessary, too, where even the most humble could communicate and for prices which steadily decreased as the service — and the nation — grew. We were proud of our post office and knew how hard they worked to bring us the intelligence from the world beyond our gate and to live up to its charge:
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
That was then… this is now…
September 6, 2011 Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe laid the stark situation of the postal service before a committee of United States senators. Such officials, of course, gave themselves the franking privilege long ago and thus having secured the right to unlimited free postage while in office, they have turned a blind eye and no intelligence whatsoever to the postal concerns of everyone else. Now these chickens are well and truly coming home to roost.
This passage from his alarming, lugubrious remarks pretty much sums up the state of the USPS: “I’m operating with a week’s worth of cash,” said this exasperated, at-his-wits-end descendant of the luckier Franklin. You could sense his irritation, frustration, incensed to a palpable degree. How had things gone so very wrong? The “culprits” are things we see and use every single day: the Internet, email, skype, text messaging and every other communications convenience we have all come to use daily. The USPS is now, sad to say, the whitest of elephants and Donahoe is the wake-master, presiding if not yet at its death bed, then at least at its prospective demise. The innocent days when “Please Mr. Postman” wowed the adolescent set and the USPS was the only game in town, now seem as far away as Ancient Rome.
But the USPS — and the government behind it– has been loathe to see the problem and do the sensible things to solve it, sooner, not later. And so good money has been thrown after bad and our elected poobahs procrastinate; it is something at which they excel.
Item: The Postal Service’s weekly costs now exceed $1 billion dollars.
Item: USPS could post a $10 billion loss for its fiscal year.
Item: USPS needs a 90-day extension to pay billions of dollars in mandatory annual retirement payments due at the end of its fiscal year on September 30. Without this crucial extension, USPS will default on its obligations to retired employees.
In fairness to USPS and its string of (coming in hopeful, going out frustrated and embittered) postmasters general, the Postal Service has at least tried to advise Congress and stem the flood of red ink and lamentation. But Congress, ostrich-like here as elsewhere, has ignored the problem, buck passing with alacrity, while pleading reforms will take place “some day.” Thus the hapless saga of a once-great institution, crucial for the growth of the Great Republic, continues.
Item: The USPS missed the chance to profit from overnight mail and the fast package deliver services like UPS, Federal Express, and all the others. Here the USPS, arrogant in its mail delivery monopoly, muffed the chance to be a serious player in the very lucrative game of speedy delivery. Lord Acton famously wrote, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as the USPS demonstrated in spades.
Item: USPS missed the growing import of the Internet, email etc. They looked at these innovative message carriers and dismissed them as pesky and irritating to be sure, but not dangerous to their centuries of hegemony.
Item: USPS, as both Internet and its chief application email grow apace, failed to read the handwriting so clearly on the (electronic) wall and so failed to produce a sensible strategic plan that would redefine its role in an electronic world and determine what specific changes would be necessary with a clear plan for all necessary changes.
Get the picture?
What should this gang who couldn’t shoot straight, USPS and Congress, have done?
1 ) Saturday mail deliveries should have been abolished years ago. Canadians have lived quite well without them. This efficiency would not have meant the end of America and would have saved millions. P.S. If the postal carriers union had complained grievously at this sensible recommendation (and they most assuredly would had, being the insufferably coddled government employees they are), they could be honestly told that with the acute diminution of mail, it would be no strain to Monday’s carriers when they would be expected to carry Saturday’s mail, too.
2 ) The nation has had too many post offices for years. In part this is a hang-over from 19th century political realities. Newly elected presidents enjoyed the “spoils system” which allowed them to select members of their party for patronage as postmasters. This perquisite of the presidency was abolished in due course, but its memory lingered on, stinking to high heaven and padding the rolls of post offices without mail, or purpose. It goes unsaid that this would necessitate a comparable shrinking in the number of employees, with all its attendant savings. Of course senators and representatives will scream bloody murder, so let’s give the Postmaster General the right to keep some of these smaller post offices for whatever he deems a good reason… even if that becomes a modern manifestation of the venerable Spoils System.
3 ) Let the USPS get access to the hundreds of millions of dollars overpaid into federal retirement funds for decades. This abuse no doubt benefited the congressional proponents of “voodoo economics.” They could use these funds elsewhere while congratulating themselves on just how difficult it would be for USPS to reclaim them. Nice.
We need these and other sensible reforms… and we need them yesterday.
What we don’t need are the silly statements by the likes of Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) who issued this suggestion to improve the fortunes of USPS: “We should be writing more passionate letters to those we love,” or the bonehead suggestion of Senator Clare McCaskiill (D-Missouri).
She said, “I really think that there is a longing out there right now, especially in these uncertain times, for some of the things that have provided stability over the years.” She urges a national advertising campaign to get people to use letters! Senator, as Ben Franklin could have told you, the USPS at its finest was about cutting edge communications technology, never merely the letter, envelope, and stamp.
That’s why whenever Mr. Postman looks in his bag nowadays there’s no letter for The Marvelettes, never, ever. The message was delivered days ago… by email.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also the author of 18 best-selling business books.
Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone
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