The USPS is in trouble. This isn’t news. It’s been an issue that has been brewing for some time. And, unlike a lot of things, I do not believe it is purely a cost issue. Think about it, the fact that you can pay less than $.50 and send several pieces of paper to any other US address, usually in only a few days, is astounding.
Looking at it in a historical context, there is not a lot to sneeze at price-wise either. In the past thirty years, the price of a stamp has gone from $.20 (1984) to $.49 (2014), an increase of 145%. During the same amount of time, the cost of a loaf of bread has gone from $.71 to $2.07 (a 191% increase), and the cost of a dozen eggs has gone from $1.01 to $2.00 (an increase of 98%). Seemingly, the cost increase of stamps, in this limited context, is totally reasonable. However, just because something has increased in price at a reasonable rate doesn’t mean it is priced right for what it is. And, for what the USPS does, I think stamps are way too cheap.
But that is not the real problem. People will not riot in the streets if stamps tomorrow cost $.60, or postage was based on “zones” like parcel services are, or if there were extra charges for rural and/or other “special case” sorts of deliveries. No, all that would probably happen would be that people would mail less, which is already happening anyway.
The political issues around the funding/profitability of the USPS are myriad. True, it is not fair to hold a free-market standard to an organization that is bound by such a broad mission, with such challenging, imposed constraints. But that is not the argument I am making. The argument that I am making is that we are watching the predictable decay of a once-needed service into the oblivion of obsolescence. The truth is, there was once a time where the best way to transfer information in a reliable, efficient, and secure manner was the mail. That is no longer the case. The march from paper to digital has been proceeding for a long time now, and sooner or later, we will have to realize that one has a future and the other does not.
I’ll pose this question. If today you were charged with building a nationwide, secure, reliable system for people to receive information from one another, would you design anything that looked even remotely like the postal service? Of course not. What I am putting forth is a bit of a thought experiment. What if you re-designed the postal service around modern needs, technology, and economic constraints? What if you truly reimagined the USPS to be something equally as valuable as it is today, but you did so in a more intentional, practical manner?
Here’s how I would do it.
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