; Date: August 15, 2020
The US Postal Service has existed for over 200 years, and is a vitally important part of America. It reaches into every last nook and cranny in the USA, delivering mail and packages through all kinds of weather. But short term political calculations seem to have driven the Trump Administration to destroy the US Postal Service. According to the mass media this was undertaken as an election tactic, to prevent the voters from mailing in ballots. But it's been a long time dream in so-called-Conservative circles to eliminate the USPS so that entrepreneurs can can do the job more efficiently, as they claim.
It's true that Pres. Trump has repeatedly attacked the US Postal Service, and the USPS is removing mailboxes and sorting machines. What's uncertain whether these moves are solely focused on the 2020 election, or whether it is to fulfill a long-standing Conservative/Corporatist goal of replacing the USPS with for-profit commercial service providers.
The reports this week are that the US Postal Service is removing mailboxes from street corners around the country. The image shown above is one of many circulating on the Internet documenting mailboxes being unbolted from their locations, and carried away to be discarded who knows where. This is happening amidst an unprecedented assault by Pres. Trump on the US Postal Service dating back several years. The current wave of his attack is focused on the 2020 election, his repeated (baseless) claims of fraud from mail-in voting, and his statements about withholding funding from the USPS to hobble its ability to support mail-in voting.
It's not just mailboxes, but also the mail sorting machines at delivery centers. These sorting machines are what makes the postal service possible, automating the mail sorting for efficient delivery. An Associated Press report has a good summary of the removals. An August 13 CNN report cites USPS documents describing plans to remove hundreds of mail sorting machines from facilities all across the USA. And an August 13 Vice News report identified a handful of mail sorting machines that had already been removed. A local TV station in Kansas City (KSHB) reports on August 14 that four mail sorting machines from a USPS facility in Kansas City Missouri. That's just the tip of the iceberg, I see in the news hundreds of similar reports this week.
But in the last few weeks it has become blatantly clear that Trump is seeking to undermine the US Postal Service explicitly because of mail-in voting handled by the USPS. The theory pushed by Trump and his cronies is that voting-by-mail is full of fraud, when there's zero proof that's the case. As a result there's a lot of news articles and statements by political operatives describing the attack on the USPS as being purely about the election.
Current 2020 election polls look bad for Pres. Trump. He has a huge disapproval, with a large portion of the country in absolute opposition not only to the policies of his Administration, but to the Republican Party enablers in Congress. It seems his goal is to suppress voting, following the typical Republican theory that a large voting turnout means an overwhelming vote for Democrats.
That may be the case, but it's also clear that so-called-Conservatives have for years desired to eliminate the US Postal Service so that commercial services could do it instead. It's very possible this effort to destroy the USPS is not just about the short term goal of voter suppression, but is really meant to serve that long-term goal. But before we get to the evidence about that, let's look at what's currently being said in the news.
Here's a collection of current news headlines to give a sense of what's being said in the press currently.
There's lots more like this.
One thing to notice is the media focus on the immediate story, removal of equipment from USPS facilities, explaining it solely as as a voter suppression tactic for the 2020 election. One gets from the media that Pres. Trump is foolhardy, looking to burn down a revered and ancient institution of the USA just for a short term political stunt.
But there has been lots of evidence of a long-term plan to destroy the USPS, in order to usher in a corporatist takeover of mail delivery. Why isn't the media saying anything about THAT?
The long-term plan to destroy the USPS
Pres. Trump's thinking may well be as short term as that - destroy the USPS to impede some voters and therefore he wins. But, isn't he surrounded by Conservative operatives that have a longer-range plan?
This does not strike me as a short term plan, but a long term plan that's being spun as being a short term plan. Why is the media telling us this idea, that the only goal is to impede voters in the 2020 election?
I don't know the answer to that, but I do have a series of references demonstrating that so-called Conservatives have a long term idea to destroy the USPS replacing it with commercial entities like FEDEX or UPS.
In the Fall of 2019, the CATO Institute published a piece about "Restructuring the US Postal Service". This piece does a very good job describing a supposedly Conservative point of view, and makes a supposedly Conservative case for dismantling the USPS. The CATO piece is extensively footnoted with references going back to 2005. It's very likely that piece is simply the 2019 version of a long-held policy goal.
As an example of the thinking:
The USPS has a legal monopoly over letters and mailboxes. That policy is an anomaly because the federal government’s general economic stance is to encourage open competition in markets, yet the USPS monopoly prevents entrepreneurs from entering postal markets and trying to improve quality and reduce costs for consumers.
While mail volumes have fallen, the USPS has expanded its package business. But it makes no sense for a privileged federal entity to take business from private, taxpaying companies in the package industry. Postal and package markets are evolving rapidly, and the goal of federal policy should be to create a level playing field open for competition and innovation.
Apparently it is a Conservative Value to value the role of corporations over the role of government services?
There is a different case that can be made. How many instances of private for-profit companies are there which willingly provide equal service to every single everyone in every remote nook or cranny of the country? Or provide equal service to the ghetto's of the USA?
The US Postal Service, like all government entities, is charged with mail delivery EVERYWHERE. I know of no for-profit commercial entity that does the same. Instead, commercial entities tend to work out which locations provide higher revenue, and to focus there, and to ignore all other places.
As the Cato report points out, the USPS does clearly face a changing market. The tradition of sending hand-written letters to grandma (and the like) has been subsumed into social media like Facebook postings. As a result first class mail has dropped considerably since 2001, and parcel delivery has increased considerably due to increasing eCommerce usage.
Clearly the US Postal Service needs to respond to these changes, and it has. For example the flat rate Priority Mail package service is very good, for lower cost than similar services from FEDEX/UPS/etc.
The Cato report goes on to say the USPS is losing billons of dollars a year, when it is supposed to be self-sustaining from revenue. This looks bad doesn't it? And, doesn't that fit the stereotype of government services: inefficiency and huge losses. But is it an accurate assessment?
An article by a pair of American Postal Workers Union leaders, titled "The Post Office Belongs to the Public. Let’s not Give it to Wall Street." says this about the losses:
But those years of losses have all come since 2006, when Congress passed a law that required the USPS to fund future retiree health benefits an incredible 75 years into the future, an onerous financial burden not imposed on any other government agency or private corporation.
Yes, the USPS is behind on the required payments to fund the retirement plan. It's easy to find news reports that the USPS is regularly defaulting on those payments. But, is requiring 75 years of funding a reasonable requirement? Why did Congress put such an unfair burden on the USPS?
This issue about the financial losses at the USPS is restated in many articles about the USPS. But none of those articles discuss the burden of being required to fund the retirement system for such a long time period.
Getting back to the Cato report, they make for me the case I suggested above, namely:
The USPS operates more than 31,000 post offices. A USPS estimate from a few years ago found that the bottom 4,500 locations average just 4.4 customer visits a day. These low‐volume locations should be closed. When private businesses have falling demand for their products, they save costs by cutting lower‐value activities. Congress should allow the USPS to do the same.
That's corporatist thinking -- only operate the profitable locations, never mind that you're leaving a bunch of citizens without service. What makes the US Postal Service so valuable is that it serves EVERYWHERE. Low income neighborhoods and extremely rural areas both get postal service, while this kind of corporatist thinking would deny service to those areas.
The new Postmaster General is also exhibiting corporatist thinking that negates another element of the traditional level of USPS service. In Looking to Cut Costs, New USPS Leader Takes Aim at Overtime and Late Trips (July 2020), we're told of new policies that eliminate the reliance on overtime in order to continue guaranteeing all mail is delivered every day.
Letter carriers were instructed to begin, start their routes and return on time.
The idea seems to be decreasing costs by eliminating overtime. To do that, every delivery worker is required to leave for their route at a set time, and to return on time. Until now, the delivery workers would wait until all mail was sorted, even if that meant going overtime. The goal had been to ensure no mail was left behind in the sorting facility, but was instead delivered every day.
Instructions to postal workers said:
“The USPS will no longer use excessive cost to get the basic job done,” the document read. “If the plants run late they will keep the mail for the next day."
The phrase "excessive cost" refers to "overtime", in order to perform the basic service of mail delivery. The result is to instead leave some mail behind in the sorting facility.
In response a postal workers union representative said:
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said the changes were moving in agency in “the wrong direction.” Federal statute governing the Postal Service requires prompt, reliable and efficient service, he said, and the new directives would slow down delivery. He said overtime exists due to staffing shortages and seasonal fluctuations, but his members would not object to overtime reductions so long as the mission was still being fulfilled. He questioned, however, whether the changes would actually lead to more efficiency.
The proposed destruction of the US Postal Service is alarming. The USPS has excellently served the USA for over 200 years, and the mission of serving every nook and cranny in the USA is vital.
Corporatist thinking routinely dismisses government services as inefficient and bloated, and describes corporations has well honed efficient engines.
That's not my experience from having worked in many corporations over my career. Very few are well honed at anything other than middle managers who are protecting fiefdom's they've built. Most corporations are filled with inefficiency as bad or worse than the stereotype of government inefficiency.
By contrast governments are tasked with serving all citizens. A government cannot leave its citizens behind just because it's unprofitable to provide service in a given location. Yet, that's exactly what's proposed in the corporate takeover of the role serviced by US Postal Service.
Bottom line is the curious media focus on the USPS role in the 2020 election.
It's clear that removing sorting machines and mailboxes serves a long-term goal, and is not being done solely for the short term election meddling goal. The USPS even says so itself:
Responding to the uproar over mailbox removal, the USPS stopped that project, UNTIL AFTER THE ELECTION. That means the mailbox removal is not about the election but about a longer-term goal. After the election the removals might start up again.