We Still Need The Postal Service

by Randy Murray on April 30, 2013

I can’t tell you how many times lately that I’ve uttered a heavy sigh upon hearing someone say, “We don’t need the post office any more. I just use email or FedEx.” It’s very much the same argument that people use to claim that we no longer need libraries. I’m tired of the “we can’t afford it” arguments. We can afford it, we need it, and it’s a critical part of our democracy. And it’s one of my favorite services of any type.

It is still a singular pleasure to receive personal mail, a letter or card or a package. And receiving a check from a client or for books sold, now that’s outright wonderful. Sure, I could certainly do all of these things electronically, digitally, but not without some effort and not without a very real loss.

When I search my memories, the earliest one that I can dredge up is my tiny self getting bundled up in a coat and mittens and walking with my mother down our long gravel driveway. I have a clear memory of reaching up, trying to peer into our mailbox, but not quite managing it. That anticipation, that asking the question, “Has the mail gone yet?*” carries both hope and excitement. In my youth it was one of the few means of communication, of connection with the outer world. The other, long distance telephone, was prohibitively expensive and not at all reliable. Mail was how we heard from family, celebrated birthdays and holidays, and received those wonderful catalogs, especially the yearly Sears Wishbook in anticipation of Christmas. I taught myself to read leafing through catalogs like that at a very early age and that fondness for the daily mail remains. It remains an important part of my daily life. It is for Diane, my wife, too. When she comes home from work in the early evenings she walks straight to the counter where I’ve placed the mail. She stands there, still in her coat, until she can see what’s come in the mail.

Sure, it’s expensive to maintain a Postal Service. It truly is. But it’s also expensive to maintain a military. It’s expensive to check the safety of foods, drugs, and consumer goods. It’s expensive to hold elections, to run a judicial system, maintain the interstate highway system. And yet we do it. It’s what we expect of our government. The difference between these other government functions and the Postal Service is striking and clear: The Postal Service is not supported by taxes. It’s entirely supported by stamps, postage, and paid services. They are completely self-supporting. Imagine telling the Navy that they’d have to build and put another carrier into service — and they would need to hold bake sales to pay for it.

Couldn’t we just drop the Postal Service and do it online? Not for everyone. Not everyone in the country by a long shot. And not yet. The Postal Service is the one benevolent government function that touches almost every American, every day. It’s a reminder that we are a part of something bigger, something potentially good, not just solitary residents of isolated states. Some guy in a sedan just pulled up outside my house and dropped off a box from Amazon. I eyed him suspiciously as he pulled boxes out of his trunk. The big brown truck from UPS that makes it back here now and then is overpowering and out of scale for our little neighborhood. But I find the daily delivery by my postal carrier to be comforting and welcome. The U.S. Postal Service is a sign that our government cares for us, cares about us. The Postal Service not only carries the mail and delivers our packages, they take an active role in the communities they serve. The Postal Service is likely the most social responsible government function as well. See this list from the Postal Service, detailing their recent achievements. Do you want that to go away?

And all this hue and cry to get rid of it. It’s unfortunate and short sighted. They’re missing not only the wonders that the postal service provides, but it’s important governmental role.

Benjamin Franklin himself, that underrated genius, was the country’s first Postmaster General. Postal service was one of the crucial methods used in the early days of this country to help bind it together, and it has been seen that way for literally thousands of years. The unofficial Postal Service motto is a rewording from Herodotus, who was writing about the ancient Persian couriers. Communications was seen as an early and vital role of government, so much so that the Postal Service is specified in the U.S Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7, which gives congress the responsibility of creating post offices as well as Post Roads. Without this governmental action, creating and growing a country could have been much more difficult.

But we have roads today. And we have other businesses that want to carry packages and documents. Why do we still need the government to be competing with businesses?

It’s for one simple reason: businesses wouldn’t provide service to everyone, or do so without charging outrageous rates. Communication with citizens is a core role of government. Recent studies by Pew Research show that the “better-off” in America are highly connected. 95% of households that earn $75,000 or more use the internet at least occasionally. 43% of Americans that earn under $30,000 a year do not use it at all. Do not argue that we don’t need a postal service until you can demonstrate that every single person, from the youngest to the oldest, from the richest to the poorest, can reliably and without fail receive all the messages and content that is sent to them. Don’t argue to let businesses do it until you can guarantee that the rates for many won’t go through the roof, just became it’s not profitable to carry a letter down to my house at the end of the lane.

I, like so many around the world, look forward to that moment in the day when I retrieve the mail. It’s a sign that we’re a part of a functioning civilization. On Sunday and on holidays or that rare occasion when the mail can’t get through it feels like there’s something wrong, something missing. That’s they way it would feel every day if they shut down the Postal Service.

But not on my watch. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. That’s heroic and comforting. I’ll fight to keep our postal carriers on their appointed rounds.

*It drives my wife nuts when I cling to the regionalism, “Has the mail gone yet?” I ask? “The mail COMES!” she growls at me. It does indeed. And then it goes.

Originally published in the Read & Trust Newsletter

The We Still Need The Postal Service by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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