It’s time to start thinking outside the mailbox.
The U.S. Postal Service has announced that it has a $6 billion deficit, and that’s on the heels of last year’s $16 billion deficit. Apparently the extra pennies we’re paying for stamps aren’t closing the gap.
The problem isn’t merely the cost of maintaining and staffing post offices (many of which were already closed in an attempt to trim expenses) or paying postal carriers’ wages, or maintaining and fueling vehicles. A big chunk of the deficit is current — and future — employee retirement benefits. It’s called “prefunding” of retirement benefits. On the Forbes website, columnist Doug Bandow notes that prefunding heaps $761.5 billion on top of the Postal Service’s ever-increasing deficit. (Oh, and by the way — the Postal Service’s deficit is really our deficit. We pay the government’s bills, remember?)
Do we actually have to crash into the brick wall before we’ll believe it’s there?
Bandow says government shouldn’t be in the mail delivery business at all, and that private enterprise will make all our postal dreams come true. (It’s Forbes. Surprise, surprise.) Actually, there’s probably some truth to that, but it’s also a fairly uncreative answer. The problem isn’t who delivers the mail. It’s the mail itself.
I realize this is blasphemy, but it’s time to let paper die. I also realize that print newspapers are next in line at the gallows, but let’s face reality. Disposable things printed on paper are already at the Dead Man Walking stage, and there won’t be any minute-to-midnight pardons. Start collecting your memories and planning the eulogies, because they’re not long for this world.
So sorry, William Randolph Hearst. I hope it didn’t hurt when you rolled over in your grave. You either, Ben Franklin.
Paper mail and printed news are yesterday’s form of communication. Just as the town crier was replaced with the printing press, so will printed communication be replaced with digital communication. Ask a 20-something where they read their news, how they buy things and how they pay their bills. It’s already happening. Paper bills, checks, telephone books, newspapers — the next generation has no use for these things. You can hear the death rattle. I just hope we can keep real books awhile longer. Reading on a tablet just isn’t the same. You can’t curl up with a good iPad. You just can’t.
For now, we’ll shelve the newsprint issue, not only because it’s a distraction but because it makes my soul bleed a little. Also because newspapers don’t have to panic just yet. Lots of people still love newspapers. I don’t know anyone who loves bills and junk mail. Newsprint still smells good with coffee. There’s no app for that. Yet. Until there is, newspapers have a stay of execution.
The Postal Service is in denial. It’s frantically throwing money at keeping a corpse on life support. The government should just pull the plug, have a moment of silence, shed a tear, and let decomposition take its course. And then — refocus on new life and move forward. But what direction is “forward”? Private enterprise? Oh, hell no. Unlike Mr. Bandow, I don’t think private enterprise is the panacea for mail delivery. Put private enterprise in charge of mail delivery and pretty soon we’ll be paying as much for a stamp as we do for a gallon of gas.
No, kiddos, the corporations are not our friends!
The government doesn’t need to stop doing what it’s doing. It just needs to do it in a more economical and sane way. It must embrace the reality of digital communication, and refocus on those paper things that still need to be mailed: birthday cards, love letters, gifts, packages and crayon drawings from the grandkids. There’s no justification for paper bills or junk mail. There just isn’t. Anyone who wants something on paper can simply print it out themselves.
So, because I’m not a politician, I can solve the Postal Service’s budgetary woes right here and now:
1) No more home delivery, except to those who are too disabled or too elderly to get to the post office. Those living too far from a post office to pick up their own mail will still get delivery, but only once per week. You can adapt to waiting a week for something. Trust me, you can.
Says the weekly newspaper editor.
2) All mailbox banks are relocated to postal office grounds, and additional banks added if necessary. Everyone picks up their own mail. And no, shut up environmentalists, it doesn’t mean that extra gas is being burned and air polluted. We can pick up the mail on our way here and there, or we could get off our fat butts and take a morning walk or ride a bike to get our mail.
We’ll adapt. Just like we adapted when mailbox banks replaced door-to-door delivery. Sure, I miss the postman putting mail in my very own mailbox. Know what? I survived. Just like when the days of the milkman ended. Sure, I miss it. Know what? I survived that too. And now, I get my milk at the grocery store. And, indeed, life goes on.
Eliminating mail delivery for all except the truly disabled and advanced elderly would pare down employee and vehicle costs. It will put an end to mailbox theft. Sure, crazy dogs with no long-term memory will have to find something new to freak out over, but whatever. They’ll adapt too.
3) Charge a “paper tax” for paper bills or junk mail.
4) End postal employee retirement prefunding. Congress created that mess, Congress can fix it (see: sequestration).
Badda-bing, badda-boom, I’ve knocked the Postal Service deficit down to nothing. It wasn’t even that hard. It just took a little critical thinking and applying (as my kids call it) my basic “La Cheapacabra” nature. Yes, my plan would mean layoffs. But I’ll tell you what — I’d much rather my tax dollars be spent on unemployment benefits than on ventilating a corpse.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com