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Friday, March 2, 2012

The Dogma of Stupid: Saving the USPS

Though I don't write much about it any more my roots are in printing and publishing and Lexigraph sells PDF-based products that address large-scale issues with handling PDF files.

Occasionally I still write about this (I also occasionally post in my PDF blog).

Today I want to address the US Post Office.

Certainly we are all familiar with the image to the right - plummeting mail volumes - up to maybe 35 billion pieces this year from its peak.

Recently the US Post Master Patrick Donahoe named 223 mail processing centers that will be closed to save money.  With that drop in mail volume comes a commensurate drop in revenue - $5 billion USD - in the recent fiscal year.

The floors of these processing centers bleed red with ink and the soon-to-be $0.50 stamp won't help much.

Our plucky congressmen are not taking this lying down, nope.  Between their busy schedules of entertaining various gold diggers vying for yet more gold and running up the national debt to epic proportions they are also busy finding ways to keep the idle mail processing centers open.


So that they themselves "look good" to their constituents.  And while the congressmen have no direct control over the USPS they can still sway the decisions by manipulating things: inciting protests, not voting in necessary postal legislation, and so on.

Basically taking their marbles and going home.

These days in my household the use the USPS has declined to the following:

1) Mailing Mrs. Wolf's Christmas cards (maybe 25 cards per year).

2) Communicating the government agencies (maybe 25 letters per year at the very most - though most agencies, e.g., the IRS, local taxing authorities, are making changes to reduce this further).

3) Mailing forgotten items (a few packages per year) to visiting relatives.

We still receive mail for some bills (a good policy in this electronic age considering we did remarkably well in a recent tax audit - in part thanks to all that hard copy backup), cards from elderly relatives, and tax notifications and bills.

Mrs. Wolf receives some purchases such as from Amazon via USPS delivery.

There is also a fairly small volume of routine junk mail.

In the USPS glory days we used to receive a laundry basket of mail per week between the house and businesses.  Computer Shoppers, ads, solicitation, and catalogs mostly - which mostly created a significant waste problem.  (Perhaps the USPS could be refitted to mine old landfills for paper to use in eco-friendly energy systems?)

I would bet today that each year we receive roughly a single laundry basket of non-junkmail.

Probably a reduction of some 50 to 1 since the late 90's and early 2000's.

No wonder they are going broke.

Given this model why does congress not act responsibly?

For one the postal unions and employees represent a significant block of voters in many districts and particularly in districts with processing centers.

Closing processing centers equals angry constituents - particularly in rural areas.

And most importantly they don't have the guts to face facts or reality of debt.  If the USPS Postmaster General has had to face up to what's coming why don't they.  Recall that we are again at the borrowing limit of the US government and adding to the burden significantly by not taking action.

One also imagines that there has never been any realistic USPS retirement planning for pensioners in the case where mail volumes decline - so we can expect a significant (tens of billions?) bailout in the future.  (I still fondly recall receiving a misplaced USPS union insurance mailing in the late 1990's telling me that as a USPS employee I could have family medical coverage for $9.99 a week per person while my Blue Cross cost me more than three times that.)

Sadly mail is becoming a thing of the past - like electronic tubes, buggy whips, incandescent light bulbs, horse-draw carriages and all the rest.  Sure people will always spend money to send Christmas cards but the volume will plummet down to that of the 1950's or 40's.

HughesNet satellite internet costs $39.00 for the first three months of service, probably $60.00 there after.  Not surprisingly its roughly the same as basic cable internet.  I used this before we had cable internet in our area - it works well enough compared, say, to dial-up.

I suspect that most internet users today are within the reach of cable or a cell tower and that HughesNet address a small, rural minority that need connectivity but live outside one of these areas.

Which means that communicating with them no longer requires the USPS.

Even the IRS has dropped using the USPS.

So, with any luck the US Congress will ensure that there will be at least 223 spare processing facilities staffed with workers watching TV or simply twiddling their thumbs.

So if a giant solar flare wipes out the US communications infrastructure we will be prepared (oops, all of the electronics in these facilities will be wiped out as well...).

Well, at any rate, these USPS employees will still have jobs and vote...

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