Friday, October 07, 2011

Is the Post Office a Public Good?

Forever stamp.  What if the Post Office
goes under?  What then? defines "public good" as a good or service that is provided without profit for society collectively.  That definition puts the U.S. Post Office, which many regard as a public good, in a bind. While it provides a public service to society as a whole, it must also be self-supporting. In other words it needs to make a profit or at least break even.  But is it really a business?   While the Post Office theoretically operates as a business, it has plenty of oversight in the form of the Postal Regulartory Commission, Congress, and the President.  Don't forget the lobbyists.  If it were able to operate completely as a business, the Post Office could introduce new products and services in order to compete in the marketplace.  Hamstringed by politics, however, the Post Office has proposed closing approximately 3700 post offices and the elimination of mail delivery on Saturday to help balance its books.  There is also discussion of cutting the benefits of postal workers--the folks who are out there through snow, rain, and dark of night delivering the mail.

The effects of closures on rural communities may be particularly hard.  Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet (Colorado) have urged the Post Office to consider the possible negative impacts of closure on rural communities when making decisions. A press release is available on Sen. Udall's website.

To read more about the history of the Post Office and the politics that limit its ability to be self-supporting, see David Morris's posts The Case for the Post Office and More on the Case for the Post Office in the Huffington Post.  To learn more about congress and politics, check out the Government Information Library's page on Politics.  There you will find a link to Center For Responsive Politics.  According to the center's Lobbying database,  FedEx spent $25,582,074 lobbying Congress in 2010.  UPS spent $5,587,349 in that same period. 

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