Past Time to Privatize the Post Office

Somebody at the United States Post Office returned six DVDs I had burned and tried to mail to family members (containing a video of an important family event), over a few cents each in alleged “postage due.”

Apparently, the Post Office believes it is rolling in so much money that it can afford treat its customers like crap.


My six mailers each consisted of a single DVD sealed in a standard DVD mailer. Because I had previously had a postal employee affix postage to exactly such a mailer, I was under the impression that the correct postage consists of a first class stamp plus a postcard stamp. I went to the Post Office specifically to determine the correct postage for such a mailer. Therefore, that is the postage I affixed (except that for three mailers I added an extra cent by combining an older postcard stamp with a two-cent stamp). The reason I used regular stamps was so that my wife could drop off the mailers in a pickup box, because I did not want to make a special trip to a Post Office center for the purpose. (Nor did I want to buy my own meter and deal with that hassle.)

I have mailed the exact same type of mailer, with the exact same postage, several times before without incident. One oddity is that the 81 cents requested per piece (a 44 cent stamp plus a 28 cent stamp plus nine cents alleged postage due) does not obviously match any figure on USPS’srate chart.

Apparently, either the postal employee with whom I previously dealt gave me the wrong information, the Post Office has changed its rate structure in some baffling and unpredictable way, or there is some subtle difference in the mailer of which I was unaware. (Perhaps the problem is that my mailer envelopes are six-inch squares.)

Obviously I have no problem paying the extra eight or nice cents per mailer, a trivial amount. The problem is that paying the requested fee would cost me several dollars worth of my time. It would nearly cost me that much in gas money simply to fire up my vehicle to make the trip.

The Post Office should be privatized. That is, it should be freed from federal controls and imposed costs (such as franking), cut off from all possible subsidies, and placed in free competition by ending its legal monopoly on first-class mail. I do not know whether postal rates would go up or down in such a scenario, but I do know that rates would better reflect market conditions, encourage greater efficiency on the part of the Post Office and its customers and competitors, and offer customers more value for their money.

For example, I seriously doubt that a competitive postal service would ask me to burn several dollars worth of my time and gas in order to pay a trivial amount of alleged postage due. What might a competitive postal service do instead? For starters, it would create rate structures easy to understand and follow, to minimize the need to visit a clerk in person. It would also take common-sense steps to make customers happy, the way that most other competitive businesses do. For example, a competitive postal service might send me a post card or email alert regarding my postage due, and offer me a quick and easy way to pay it, rather than waste my time and delay my mailers by several days.

Because postal rates are so baffling and unpredictable, because lines at the Post Office are often so long, because there is no Post Office convenient for me to visit, and because postal employees sometimes fail to ensure customer satisfaction, I am going to take every reasonable step to avoid doing business with the United States Post Office, until such time as that entity is transformed into a competitive enterprise. Here are some examples of how I’ll accomplish that:

* Rather than send discs through the mail, I will increasingly use online services such as You Send It, a company I paid $8.99 to transfer the family movie to all its intended recipients, from the comfort and convenience of my own home. (No, I am NOT going to pay the Post Office the extra alleged postage due.)

* My wife and I have been in the habit of mailing by USPS birthday cards every month, on the theory that there’s something special these days about real paper. Whether or not paper is special, I’m going to stop doing that. Instead, I’m going to create digital birthday greetings and send them online.

* I have mailed books via the USPS. I am going to look at other services now, and in the future I will plan to avoid interaction with the USPS altogether. (I also had a book returned to me once, which was more than a mere inconvenience.)

* For all larger packages, I will now look first to services like UPS and FedEx, whereas to date I have gone first to the USPS.

I happily grant that many employees of the USPS do their jobs superbly. However, the political structure of the USPS significantly insulates the company from competition and reduces its employees’ incentives to treat customers well. Those who should most strongly advocate the return of postal service to the free market are those postal employees who take the most pride in their work.



Prometheus June 11, 2010 at 6:45 AM
I entirely agree with you that the USPS needs to be privatized. There was one time when they returned a BDay card because square envelopes don’t go through their machine sorter properly. I don’t see how to avoid them completely yet.

Adam Thompson June 17, 2010 at 4:23 PM
I live in a fairly large town where the PO doesn’t deliver to homes…because they’re lazy, I guess? Every house has an associated PO Box (but the association is not done in an organized way). It causes a ton of really silly problems.

Fedex and UPS deliver to homes in this town.

Anonymous June 22, 2010 at 2:47 PM
USPS handles orders of magnitudes more packages than UPS and FedEx combined. FedEx’s preferred
business model is Business to Business (many more packages at fewer stops (and deliveries)). Same for UPS. Neither are particularly people friendly when it comes to delivering to your residence. Much less hassle to go with USPS and far less expensive.

Ari June 22, 2010 at 2:55 PM
Anonymous: USPS is far more expensive than many internet options. Factoring in convenience and speed, the other services are competitive for some services (and they are forbidden from competing in first class mail). I don’t get stuff delivered to my house, anyway, so that’s not a factor. The USPS has been far from “people friendly” in my experience.