It is a metaphor for what is occurring at seemingly all levels of our country and culture. The United States Postal Service has announced it will slow service for first-class mail and periodicals while “temporarily” increasing prices on all “commercial and retail domestic” packages … because of the holidays. It’s probably good the announcement did not come through the mail, or it might have been delayed.
How much of a delay will depend on our ZIP codes, which sounds a little discriminatory. A map developed by The Washington Post allows you to enter your ZIP code and you are then informed how many additional days you can expect to wait for your bills, ads, catalogues and personal letters, assuming anyone but maybe grandma writes letters these days.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy displayed a gift for the obvious when he said, “The Postal Service’s problems are serious,” but he is optimistic they can be solved. He said he has a “ten-year plan,” which sounds a bit like the old Soviet and Chinese centralized planning systems, which failed.
Part of the problem has been the huge amount of money USPS sets aside for pensions and other benefits for postal employees. DeJoy thinks one way to save money is for retirees to be allowed to switch to Medicare, a program that is already living on borrowed financial time and expected to run out of money in the not-too-distant future.
What a difference a few decades make. I remember receiving letters from my parents as a kid in camp with a three-cent stamp on them. They were promptly delivered. In the days leading up to Christmas, we received a morning and afternoon delivery. The Post Office, as it was then known, united the nation and opened the world (some kids had “pen pals” in other countries) before there were internet and Facebook “friends,” most of whom we don’t know.
Going to the mailbox and seeing what was in it was a daily adventure. You would raise a red flag on the side of the box to let the mailman know you had something to send. If you peered into the mail car on a train, you would see many bags and know they were on the way to their intended destination in a timely fashion.
DeJoy says air carriers have become unreliable in delivering the mail and he wants to rely more on ground services. It worked for the Pony Express!
The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 states: “The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.”
Then there is the unofficial, but familiar “motto” of the postal service: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
The law and the motto will have to be updated to reflect the new delays. Perhaps it’s time to figure out a replacement for the U.S. Postal Service and let it become a completely private business.
If only we could resurrect the original postmaster, Benjamin Franklin, who created a system that was affordable and fast for his day. Franklin would likely be appalled at what we have today. He might even recommend stamping it out and starting over.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.