Home | About | Donate

The US Postal Service Was Never a Business. Stop Treating it Like One

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/08/12/us-postal-service-was-never-business-stop-treating-it-one

Marlow is wrong, claiming that “The USPS was never a business”.

When the best Congress money can buy renamed the US Post Office the USPS in 1970, kicked the Postmaster General off the POTUS’ cabinet, and required the USPS to operate with no gubmit funding USPS became A BUSINESS.

Working for a global engineering firm during the mid 90s The USPS was my primary client for three years and I found USPS to be more enterpreneurial and applying best business practices better than ANY of the fortune 500 companies my employer contracted with. While the fortune 500 crowd was focused on decriminalizing New Deal regulations (disguised as “deregulation”) and soaking up corporate welfare, USPS was serially subjected to Congresscritters interfering with their operations, mostly to hobble USPS tofavor its competition who funded said Congresscritters.


A couple of quotes from ~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postal_Service_Act of 1792

Because news was considered crucial to an informed electorate, the 1792 law distributed newspapers to subscribers for 1 penny up to 100 miles and 1.5 cents over 100 miles; printers could send their newspapers to other newspaper publishers for free. Postage for letters, by contrast, cost between 6 and 25 cents depending on distance. This subsidy amounted to roughly 0.2 percent of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to McChesney and Nichols.

Those newspapers sent for free between printers, by 1830's, averaged about 3,500 a year, almost 10 a day overall. The printers would then reprint news from other parts of the country, not unlike the way many blogs work today. And they all had to be delivered equally, no favoritism or holding back someone's mail because of differences, also no surveillance.
JD Thomas said the Postal Service Act was shaped in part by the desire to avoid censorship employed by the Crown to try to suppress their political opponents in colonial times. He also claimed that "the promise of mail delivery [helped] grow the nation and economy instead of serving only existing communities.

Researchers have claimed that the widespread availability of newspapers contributed to a high literacy rate in the US.This in turn helped increase the rate of economic growth, thereby contributing to its dominant position in the international economy today.
That effect was noted, In 1831 (or about then) when Alexis de Tocqueville visited the US from France he wrote, after visiting a backwoods area in the upper Michigan peninsula, that in that far off location the locals knew more about European and French news than the citizens of his own country. Essentially the free distribution of newspapers between printers bore a similarity to the internet of today. Widespread, inexpensive distribution of information.
A good book which covers the first years is by Richard R. John, "Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse." It seems a bit dry at first but as you get into it the book gets really interesting, especially if you are looking at a comparison between the development of the Post Office and the development of the web.

Exactly. What Marlow SHOULD have said is that the postal service was never INTENDED to be a business, but a government agency providing several unique and important services, including the intangible service of promoting the common good.

Milton Friedman was partly right in asserting that the only legitimate purpose of a corporation is to provide income to its owner/shareholders. That is what government has allowed and that is what we’ve got. Blather about “good corporate citizenship” is just that: blather.

It need not be this way. If we are to charge corporations with no explicit duties to contribute to the public good, they could and should at the very least be strictly prohibited from activities that do harm to individuals or the public at large in exchange for that privilege.

On a slightly different point, the claim of Big Business and its gurus that every organization (schools and government agencies in particular) should be “run like a business” is ignorant nonsense. Those and other institutions exist for purposes entirely different from those of a business. They require different organizational structures and function in significantly different ways from a for-profit business, and are generally funded in entirely different ways.

Making money requires no great intelligence or scruples–a little, but not a lot. It requires mainly attention to that one goal. Oddly enough many individuals used to do that and also contribute greatly to their communities through civic clubs and similar institutions. Some still do.

1 Like

Yes indeed, US corporate law has always required that corporations act in the best interest of shareholders…period.

Failure to do so results in shareholder law suits that the shareholders always lose.

When people tell me about corporate self-regulation, responsibility, etc. I tell them its all illegal. In most cases they are just trying not to feel guilty for their complicity. The only way to control corporations is with regulations. That is why FDR’s New Deal worked so well and why the corporations, their politicians and media spent trillions on decriminalizing corporate crime (disguised as “deregulation”).

1 Like

I would point out that the very heart of capitalist economics is laissez-faire, NO government “interference” (regulation) in markets. Regulate and it is no longer capitalism. But the capitalists have gotten away with it for so long that they believe not only that they really ARE entitled to plunder without restrictions, but that regulation spells death, not for them but for US.