Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an excellent article on the US Postal Service and its many, many, many problems. Falling volumes, rising costs, unions, pensions, healthcare.
Let me propose a solution that isn’t so modest: Dismantle the thing. Shut it down. This bloated, anachronistic, expensive Hydra has lived long enough. Don’t “reinvent” it. Don’t cook up a bunch of half-baked tangential “services” in a pathetic attempt to innovate and “grow revenue.” Don’t waste another microsecond “negotiating” with the unions. Far kinder to euthanize it and let the resources it consumes be redirected into something of value.
Here’s the plan: lay off all the carriers, drivers, sorters, counter clerks. Every employee. Every one. Sell the trucks, jeeps, cars, vans, trailers. Every one. Sell the post office buildings. All of them. Close the adminstrative offices and sell those buildings, too. All of them. Sell the furniture/fixtures/ down to the bare walls. Put the proceeds in a defined contribution system for retired and legacy employees and shove their iceberg into open water. If anything is left over (there won’t be), buy a cup of coffee for the auctioneer.
How many legitimate pieces of first class mail do you get in a year? A dozen? How many will you get next year? Are there any other ways a similar message could be delivered to you? You bet there are.
More than half the mail the USPS delivers is junk mail. This means the direct marketing association people will be unhappy. Boo hoo. How many trees do you idiots kill, ship to me, and make me carry up and then down stairs and put in my recycling bin? Why does the USPS charge them a third of the price of first class mail? That is the most ass-backwards thing I have ever heard. Look – I’m saving Planet Earth right out of the gate here. I’m nothing if not Green.
What else do I get in the mail? Magazines? Print magazines are dying. Yes, I prefer a print magazine, but if I can read it on an iPad or online in its full form, I think I can make that sacrifice. Or, you could work out dead-tree subscription delivery some other way – through the few remaining newsstands, for example: print a coupon or show some proof of subscription to the newsseller, they get credit from the publisher. Easily handled with technology for you Luddites. In any event it will be a moot point in five years or less anyway.
Who else is gonna cry wolf? Well, the nearly 600,000 Hydra employees who will be laid off. Their unions. Again, Boo Hoo. If you open up the shrinking market for first class mail delivery to FedEx, UPS, and other potential competitors, guess what? They’re gonna need Cliff Clavins to schlep all that stuff around. No, they won’t need 600,000 of them. No, it won’t be for forty-four cents anymore. But would you pay a buck to send Aunt Muriel that birthday card since she doesn’t have Gmail? Yes. Yes you would.
In the end, I think the happy folks will far outnumber the not-so-happy-you-took-my-job-for-life folks. You know who else is gonna be happy? Starbucks. This little plan will open up nearly 32,000 former Post Offices it can then fill with hipster music and comfy chairs and free wi-fi and bags of Cafe Verona so you can get that $5 latte in West Branch, Iowa and anywhere else you might accidentally find yourself undercaffeinated.
The US Postal Service, like so many other things our government undertook in the last couple centuries, is no longer a necessary service. Private companies and alternate technologies can provide the “services” the USPS currently provides, faster, cheaper, better, and in the way you want them. This is America. We deserve better.