THE United States Postal Service has made a perfectly sensible decision. In light of the move by most Americans to electronic mail and online bill pay, it will no longer deliver the post on Saturdays. The volume of mail has plummeted over the past five years, and the service is deep in the red. Taking Saturdays off will save it about $2 billion a year. It’s a smart move. But the way it came about is a portent of doom.
The Postal Service has been asking to move to five-day delivery for some time. They’ve been supported in this effort by a large majority of Americans. One need only look at the examples of Canada, Sweden, Australia or Germany (where Saturday delivery is charged extra) to see the non-disastrous effects of such a policy. Few reforms to major institutions are so popular and obvious.
Unfortunately for the Postal Service, this is but a baby step in the right direction. The whole concept behind the service is broken. Over three-quarters of America’s post offices do not turn a profit. The requirement to deliver anywhere and everywhere in America, at a set price, is a noose around its neck. Congress, meanwhile, is pulling on its feet, requiring the service to pre-pay health-care obligations for retirees well into the future. But this is not why we are doomed.
We are doomed because last year the House and Senate considered separate measures aimed at reforming the Postal Service. Neither of them made it out of Congress. The farther-reaching House bill never came to a vote. The Senate bill passed, but was not taken up by the House. And, really, it wasn’t a reform bill at all. Rather, it delayed the reforms sought by the service, and put off a decision on Saturday delivery for two years. Even with the American people pushing at their backs, the senators could not take that baby step. The service had to use some dubious legal reasoning to finally pull off the move.
Consider that for a moment. Most people don’t rate mail delivery as one of their top concerns. It isn’t the third rail of American politics. Yet Congress could not even pass a reform supported by seven in 10 Americans. Now consider America’s attitude towards Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Those programmes, primarily the health-related ones, will bankrupt the country if they’re not changed or taxes aren’t raised. No workable solution has anywhere near the backing of 70% of Americans. And the debate over what to do about them is highly charged. Does anyone truly believe Congress is up to the challenge?
(Photo credit: AFP)
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