Why do we always prefer the private, high cost option?

It’s fun to slam the US Postal Service, but I’ve never been quite clear on why we do.

After all, if you know of a private commercial carrier who will deliver something for you, in two days, to a location across the nation 2,400 miles away, for 47 cents,  I’d like to know the name of it.

And its not as if the alternatives are either faster or cheaper. I’m on day 9 of waiting for a UPS ground package I ordered from the midwest more than a week ago. I suppose it will get here, but if the shipper, the Signals Catalog, had used USPS it would have been here a lot sooner for the same money. Sadly, they didn’t offer that option.

An article in today’s NYTimes (here) talks about the pricing practices at UPS stores in New York, but they’re similar all over. They have fewer work days than the Postal Service, they are slower and cost more — and if you send a USPS letter or package at a UPS store you pay a surcharge — and yet I still never hear UPS, or FedEx, or any of the others, come in for the abuse the USPS does.

Why is that? Is it because they’re apparently optional?

If so, you might want to ponder this article, a column, by LATimes writer Davis Lazarus discussing efforts by some to privatize the Postal Service. A lot of people say the way to avoid subsidizing the Postal Service is to let private enterprise run it, making it supposedly “run like a business,” but I wonder if those people realize that private business, now, cannot do what the Postal Service does.

But of course, USPS is “government” and government is always evil. Better to have private, competition, so prices will be kept low.

Just like in the medical industry.

This entry was posted in Blogging the Rambler. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Why do we always prefer the private, high cost option?

  1. laytonian says:

    Thank you, Charlie.

    Over the past thirteen years, our family has shipped over 6,000 packages via the good ‘ol Post Office. Only once, was something claimed as having been lost (and the situation was iffy).

    On the other hand, one of the higher-priced services twice lost shipments of life-sustaining drugs (signature-required) that they claimed were left on our porch. One was found months later, in a neighbor’s car’s backseat and the other was in our storage shed.
    A few years ago, a driver with that same company stopped me as I drove down the street and asked me to sign for something. Where was it? He’d left it on someone else’s front porch. He wasn’t happy with me when I refused to sign without having possession of the package. He told me to walk over to my neighbor’s and get it myself.

    The USPS delivers your Aunt Mabel’s birthday card to you. The one in the dark red envelope, with the address written in pencil….without a zip code. Across the country, First Class Mail, delivered in 2-3 days. For what? 44 cents?

    Try sending that birthday card via one of the private shippers, and you’ll pay about $12.00 for the same service.
    But companies do that every day.

    The private shippers have skimmed the cream out of shipping (the parcels) and left the USPS with dwindling revenues from Aunt Mabel who doesn’t use email.

    Don’t let them ruin a good thing.

    Me, I’m happy to send up to 70 pounds in a flat-rate USPS Priority Mail box, to any US Zip Code, for $9.80. Yes, I’m a very happy customer of the USPS. We’re getting a bargain out of Ben Franklin’s idea.

    AND…if someone messes with that box, like making a false claim, steals it, or defiles your mailbox? Federal crime. Ta dah.

    Pssst — I wouldn’t mind paying a bit more. Really.

  2. Marty Cohn says:

    In rural areas, even UPS and Fedex like to use the USPS for delivery. There is a program that gives a healthy discount to shippers who enter parcels at the destination Post Office. So instead of driving 20 miles each way to deliver a 1 pound parcel, the private courier delivers all of the parcels for the ZIP to the Post Office and the letter carriers take them out with the mail the next day.

    The PO makes money, private companies save money. Something for everyone.

  3. eddie says:

    It’s illegal for anyone other than the post office to send mail under $1. that is why you won’t find one.

  4. Charles Trentelman says:

    i’ve never cared for UPS because their drivers are timed closely — they take too long, they get in trouble, so they just dump and run. If what ur having delivered is a camera, or drugs, or valuables, they don’t care, if its stolen its insured so its all the same to them, but not me. So I never have stuff sent to my house if its ups.Plus they are slo-o-o-o-o-w — 5 days PLUS the day they pick up AND PLUS the day they deliver, so 7 day minumum,

  5. Jerry says:

    First of all, I’m a fan of the United States Post Office. They do a great job under less than optimum circumstances. But the cost of mailing a letter is actually more than 47 cents, when you take into account the fact that the post office always runs a deficit. And I believe the reason they do is described above. They will deliver anything, anywhere, where in the private sector, they won’t. That means if someone has to drive 50 miles, one way, on a gravel road to deliver a package to someone, the USPS will do that, and at a cost that is similar to that when delivering a package to a heavily populated area. While this is a great service and benefit to the ones shipping and receiving, it certainly is not cost effective. The post office would do well to review it’s policy concerning these types of deliveries.

  6. Mike Trujillo says:

    So, Jerry, you want to screw over the U.S. citizens who live away from cities at the end of 50 mile long gravel roads? They pay just as much taxes as you do. You just want to tell them, “Hey, you want your mail? Move into town like everybody else!”

    I’m sure the many farmers, ranchers, lumber workers, fishermen, etc. who work to in out of the way places appreciate your concern for the power of free enterprise.

    In densly populated cities, the cost of delivering multiple letters to apartment complexes, townhouses, and condominiums is LESS than 47 cents per letter because of the volume. So, the price of the delivery to the farmer on the gravel road is made up by the cost of the letters going to Manhatten high rises.

    You want to lower the cost of mail delivery? Get rid of all the junk mail. That’s what makes up the bulk of a mailman’s deliveries.

  7. ctrentelman says:

    Perhaps a bit of history will help at this point: The original mails in the US, and the colonies beforehand, worked on a philosophy much as Jerry advocates — you pay for the distance you send. This meant that mail was expensive and complicated. It also was a huge limitation on communications, since only the rich could afford to mail a letter any distance. As we all know now, the ability to send something to someone anywhere is a huge boost to free enterprise and capitalism.

    Ben Franklin was the first postmaster, but the rates were still a hodgepodge until the mid-1800s when, for what we would now call blatantly socialistic, if not communistic, reasons, things changed for the silly reason that it would help the nation grow.

    Yeah, I know, creeping monopolistic socialism is everywhere, but here’s what the official USPS history has to say:

    “The story of the United States Postal Service begins in 1775, when the Continental Congress named
    Benjamin Franklin the first American Postmaster General. Franklin and his fellow patriots saw a robust
    mail system as critical to the nation’s welfare. A healthy postal network facilitated communication among
    army commanders and the first elected representatives, and representatives and their constituents;
    newspapers sent through the mail enabled Americans to participate in political life. As directed by
    Congress, postal officials first extended the mail system geographically, adding mail routes and Post
    Offices to embrace communities up and down the coast and then westward, keeping pace with the
    traveling frontier. In the mid-1800s, Congress increased access to the mail by simplifying and lowering
    letter-postage rates. Later in the century, Congress introduced the convenience that most Americans
    now expect – free home delivery of mail, first in the city, then in the country. To check for mail, city
    dwellers no longer had to wait in long lines at crowded Post Offices, and farmers no longer had to unhitch
    horse from plow and plod five or six miles into town. In 1913, the Post Office Department introduced
    Parcel Post – affordable parcel delivery available to all Americans that opened up a new world of mail
    order merchandise to many, especially in rural areas.
    To enable the Post Office Department to serve all Americans, no matter how remote, yet still finance its
    operations largely from its revenue, Congress gave the Department a monopoly over the carriage of
    letter-mail by a group of federal laws known as the Private Express Statutes.”

    You can read the whole thing at: http://www.usps.com/postallaw/_pdf/UniversalServiceandPostalMonopolyHistory.pdf

  8. laytonian says:

    Actually…..most people at the end of a 50-mile road, have to drive into town to pick their mail up at the post office. My husband grew up seven miles out of town, in a small town in Nebraska….and never had home delivery.
    The junk mail is actually a profit center for USPS, because it’s pre-sorted down to the 10-digit zip code.

    I don’t mind subsidizing USPS.
    WHY? Because UPS, FedEx and the others are subsidized by the taxpayers (just like any other business is) due to their ability to deduct every penny of expense before they pay taxes.

    We got off topic, Charlie. Sorry. It’s my fault. This was obviously a discussion of the “public option” on health care. I supported that, too….but I guess the nonprofit “exchanges” are a bit of a start.

  9. flatlander100 says:

    Well, one of the things making things rough for the PO these days is, of course, email I don’t know about you folks, but I get very nearly no personal letters anymore. One a month. Maybe. But many more emails from people who used to write to me, and to whom I used to write back.

    Add in on line bill paying [which saves half a buck a bill], and it’s no surprise that the volume of mail the PO moves [and so its revenues] are not what they once were. And as far as letter-mail goes, they’re in a catch 22 situation. To make up revenues, they have periodically to raise postage rates. Which makes alternative forms of communication and bill paying even more financially attractive. And so it goes.

    Now, that said, one of the responsibilities of the national government is to move the mails. Has been since the founding. And if that requires a subsidy, then so be it.

  10. Charles Trentelman says:

    but that’s precisely what I don’t understand, bob — people complain about the cost of a stamp going up to (horror!) 47 cents, but they’ll gladly burn 25 cents worth of gasoline to drive to a ups store and pay more for slower service.

    which was the question I asked originally. Still waiting for an answer on that one.

  11. Gregory Renfroe says:

    The folks behind the counter of the Layton post office on Fairfield may not be the jolliest bunch but they get people served and on their way quickly. I was in there with my holiday mailings and stood at the end of the line very close to the door. Within a few minutes my rolling dolly of stacked gifts and I were at the counter. Yes, it was over a hundred dollars but believe me it would have been much more at one of those mail stores. All of the packages got to their destinations when they were supposed to. Result: Happy Customer. Thanks, USPS

  12. flatlander100 says:

    47 cents isn’t a horror Charlie. It would be a good deal — if the alternative available wasn’t free [e-mail] and much much faster.
    As for packages, and particularly docs [mostly what I have to send], I prefer USPS Priority Mail. Never had a problem with it. But I have to drive to the PO to use the service, as I would to get to the UPS store, so it’s pretty much a push as far as that’s concerned.
    Brown for a long time did more and better advertising than the PO did. [I imagine the PO budget for TV ads is limited.]
    But the main problem, again, is the PO (a) has an obligation to deliver to all and (b) has been overtaken by technology eating into the services it used to provide [email, texting, etc.] Wish I had an answer. Don’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>