The United States Postal Service endured its first-ever default, failing to submit a required $5.5 billion payment for future retirees’ health benefits. This unprecedented lapse prompts new questions about the fate of the Postal Service as its financial situation spirals ever out of control, and adds to the list of problems Congress has been so far unable to fix. The situation which the Post Office currently finds itself in is not unique among our gigantic government bureaucracies nor is it a new phenomenon.
Since its inception the USPS has been used by big business and big government progressives to increase partisan patronage and to increase the ever-expanding role of the federal government. Investor knowledge benefited from the expansion of the USPS, which had over 18,00 branches by 1850 – one for every 1,300 people. Congress had a direct stake in the Post Office in that congressional apportionment was based on population, and since constituents clamored for new routes, there was a built-in bias in favor of expanding the postal network. Most routes did not even bear more the 1 percent of their costs, but that was irrelevant, given the political gains the represented.
In addition to their value in apportionment, the postal branches offered legislators a free election tool. Congressman shipped speeches and other election materials to constituents free, thanks to the franking privileges. Partisan concerns also linked post office branches and the party-controlled newspapers by reducing the cost of mail distribution. During the first half of the 1800′s, newspapers being transmitted through the mail rose from 2 million to almost 140 million and at a much cheaper rate that all other printed material. Post office historian Richard John has estimated that if the newspapers would have been charged the same rate as other mails, the costs would have increased by as much as 700 times.
Those politicians and business men advocating for a large federal government corrupted the independence of the mail system and to a large part printed media as well. These government subsidies, among other things, created an incentive for the citizenry to read newspapers instead of books. This democratization of the news produced a population of people who thought they knew a great deal about current events, but lacked the theoretical grounding in history, philosophy, or politics to properly ground their opinions.
By the 1840′s, the postmaster general became a political plum, wielding considerable clout. Some 8,700 jobs fell under the realm of the post office representing more that three-fourths of the federal civilian workforce–larger than even the Army! The federal subsidies received by the USPS forced competitors out, and over time – like what happens whenever anything receives subsidies – cost soared and quality deteriorated.
This brings us to where we are today, not just with the United States Postal Service, but with government in general. One of out founding patriots, Thomas Paine once said, “That government is best which governs least.” The USPS is expected to miss another $5.6 billion payment in September, and the question remains whether taxpayers will eventually need to step in to save an agency that historically has gotten by without taxpayer support, even though it is subject to congressional oversight. As it loses roughly $25 million a day, Americans need to realize that the best product for the consumer in both quality and price result from the private sector NOT Washington D.C. The remarkable thing about competition is that companies like UPS and Federal Express both provide better service and believe it or not TURN A PROFIT.
This is just on question that Americans will face this November at this ever important fork in the road: The Individual or the Government? Is the individual intelligent enough to know how to spend their own money…It is as simple as that…