Fix the Postal Service Permanently, Or Support Its Role In Democracy.
As Donald Trump and Louis DeJoy continue what former President Obama called “kneecapping” and former Vice President Gore describes as a possible conspiracy, the media in its often thoughtless fashion continues recycling Republican tripe about the “debt” and losses suffered at the United States Postal Service.
All involved seem to ignore a basic tenet of public political economy: the Postal Service is like the Pentagon a public good. It is not intended nor designed to operate at a profit: it is designed to provide a specific good that is not otherwise available outside of the realm of government.
Any economist worth his or her salt will tell you that a public good exists because there is no plausible way to provide an equivalent amount of social welfare in the private marketplace.
Police, national defense, education and certain utilities are only efficiently produced as public goods.
And saying they are efficiently produced is not equivalent to saying they are produced at a profit. As several commentators have recently observed, no one asks if the DOD ran a profit — because no one cares. It is like asking if your refrigerator is showing a profit or a loss.
The issue of efficiency for a public good relates to other measures like making sure it can meet mandates like universal service.
Without delving into the likely political motives of those who engage in bizarre and non-economic comparisons of the Postal Service to a corporate enterprise for profit, we can also say this.
The strictures placed on the Postal Service to self-finance are made more irrational by the fact that Congress has not authorized it to do things that many public goods-providing agencies can do: like going to the market to raise money for its support.
Suppose for instance the Postal Service could (aside from selling stamps and envelopes) as post offices do in many countries like Japan become a financial institution which can handle savings and checking for consumers, get involved in the credit card business and consumer lending. Why not reinstate the postal savings bonds program at closer to market rate interest?
Instead of disabling the Postal Service and leaving it prey to private companies who want to monopolize the express dispatch business, strengthen it by allowing it take on roles that are well-established in Europe, Israel, the Middle East and Asia.
If not, stopping asking why the Postal Service doesn’t make a profit — and stop using it as a pawn in a vicious game of voter suppression and national division.
-Albert Turner Goins