Using the same logic as shooting a hole in the barn and then painting the target around it…
There is likely no more loathsome federal bureaucrat than the aptly named Louis DeJoy, who, despite supposedly being a successful businessman, has the surefire winner of a business plan to resurrect the United States Postal Service (USPS)—raise prices and slow service. Sounds perfect.
DeJoy (translated as ”lose happiness”) plans among other things to raise stamp and shipping prices and wants to have up to five days to deliver first-class letters, instead of having a goal to deliver them nationwide in one to three days, the Wall Street Journal reports. The USPS has a monopoly on first-class delivery, so like all monopolists, DeJoy wants higher prices and awful service. All in the name of saving the USPS.
Using the same logic as shooting a hole in the barn and then painting the target around it to determine marksmanship accuracy, the USPS is trying to achieve its goals by gaming the metrics. “Last year, first-class mail hit its service target 89.7% on average, well below its 96% goal,” write Jennifer Smith and Paul Ziobro for the WSJ.
There are thirty thousand USPS locations and DeJoy assures us he doesn’t plan to close a bunch of them, but ”[t]he plan does call for consolidating an unspecified number of low-traffic stations and city Post Office branches with other nearby locations,” according to Smith and Ziobro.
You may have heard that the US Constitution in 1789 authorized Congress to establish “Post Offices and post Roads.” But, as James I. Campbell wrote in his book The Last Monopoly, the 1792 postal act limited the postal monopoly to “letter or letters, packet or packets, other than newspapers.”
“Until the Postal Act of 1863,” Campbell wrote, “intercity letters were either held at the destination post office for collection or delivered by a ‘letter carrier’ who acted as independent contractor and charged the addressee two cents, one of which went to the Post Office.” The Postal Code of 1872 extended the postal monopoly to the delivery of local letters.
The USPS lost money in each of the past fourteen years. In its latest fiscal year, the post office lost $9.2 billion.
Prior to the 2020 election, the Brookings Institute detailed Donald Trump’s attempt to shutdown the USPS for his political advantage. Trump stated, “They [Democrats] want 25 billion dollars—billion—for the post office. Now, they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Rashwan Ray called Trump’s ham-handedness, “not only an attack on fair and equitable voting and the democratic process. It is also an attack on the Constitution, U.S. veterans, and racial equality.”
There was a time the post office was in the censorship business. Eric Longley wrote in “Mencken vs. The Post Office” the following, “Mencken’s willingness to do battle with the Post Office, once the battle was forced on him, can be explained, not only by his self-interest, but by his hostility toward ‘Comstockery’ and toward Post Office censorship.”
“Comstockery” was coined by George Bernard Shaw and adopted by Mencken and others to describe the antics of vice-crusader Anthony Comstock, founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.
The Post Office deemed Mencken’s magazine the American Mercury as obscene based on objections from the Watch and Ward Society. The offending piece was Herbert Asbury’s story “Hatrack” featuring a small-town prostitute who serviced Catholic men in the Protestant cemetery and Protestant men in the Catholic cemetery.
She “sought forgiveness, and might have been reformed if this had been granted. However, the self-righteous towns people refused to forgive, and shunned her when she came into church on Sunday.”
Longley wrote, “Mencken called the Post Office ruling ‘purely gratuitous and malicious,’ since the magazine had already been sent through the mail. Mencken, however, was determined to fight the Post Office’s decision that the Mercury was obscene.”
While Mencken won his case against the Watch and Ward Society, Longley described the court’s ruling in his case against the post office as “an unmemorable opinion from the Second Circuit Court.”
So, should DeJoy fix the USPS by making it worse? Maybe there is another way. Lew Rockwell wrote in 2009 for mises.org, “Writing in The State and Revolution in 1917, Vladimir Lenin summed up the economic aim of socialism as follows: ‘To organize the whole economy on the lines of the postal service….’“
Competitive capitalism is the answer.
Douglas French is former president of the Mises Institute, author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply, and author of Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth. He received his master’s degree in economics from UNLV, studying under both Professor Murray Rothbard and Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe.