21st Century Post Office looks to 18th century Post Office for inspiration

Today the Postal Service exists in a netherworld where it must provide universal service–a classic public good–and at the same time break even; it must “compete” with private parcel services while providing them with platforms to expand their nonunionized and nonuniversal businesses; it must meet the demands of Congress while getting by without tax dollars.

Instead of entertaining ill-thought-out discussions about how to squeeze the Postal Service even more than it has already been squeezed, Congress needs a precise picture of what is threatened when we talk of going to five-day delivery, shuttering post offices, laying off experienced postal workers, hiking rates for newspapers and magazines (including, it should be noted, publications such as The Nation) and privatizing pieces of what is supposed to be a ubiquitous public service.

These “efficiencies” threaten more than just the Postal Service. They pose direct and indirect threats to democracy.

Bravo.  Finally someone who “gets” it.  John Nichols of The Nation (here) riffs on a lot of stuff I’m usually ranting about and asks a question all Americans need to grok: what is the USPS mission–universal service or making money?  The news shows and pundits would have you believe its the latter, and that all the USPS has to do to make money is dismember its unions and get lean and mean, i.e gut its workforce and close up shop in rural America.  Wrong Answer, exclaims Nichols, who points to a PO  that bound together the colonies and early Republic by cheaply circulating the various newspapers and opinion journals that stoked a revolutionary zeal in 18th century America.

Nichols pines for a renaissance in the post office that will transform it for the better while returning it more to its original mission.  Since the internet is such a vital part of 21st century communication and information gathering, perhaps an internet cafe in every post office lobby, especially in poorer and rural neighborhoods without broadband, would be a home run for the post office and the American public.


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