A Sign of Our Greedy and Plutocratic Times, Obliterating the American Commons — Congress’ Attack on the U.S. Post Office

© 2012 Peter Free


26 April 2012



Introduction — the idea of the national “commons”


The idea of the commons has to do with shared, but limited resources.  The commons concept can also be applied to services that are (arguably) most efficiently delivered by centralized entities.


The “tragedy of the commons” refers to the reality that commonly held resources are ultimately destroyed by the individualized greed of the people using them.


I have written about the tragedy phenomenon, here, in regard to fisheries.



The current assault on the U.S. Post Office provides an example of how corporate greed and simple-minded ideology often extinguish the commons that are good for ordinary Americans


Our Congress, which today exclusively serves as paid gunmen for the Great American Plutocracy, is trying to put the United States Post Office out of business.


Other than allowing avaricious private competitors to move in on what sound economic efficiency would rightly retain as a national enterprise, there is not a trace of national interest logic to this development.


Yet, there has been surprisingly little popular uproar about the assault on a historically fine institution.  Apparently, Americans are so accustomed to competent mail delivery and conveniently located service stations that they take the Post Office for granted.


Metaphorically, the Post Office is the mail-delivery equivalent of our Interstate highway system.  It is a vital part of our the national infrastructure that Americans are irrationally letting crumble, even in the face of competing examples from foreign nations that enthusiastically go in the opposite direction.



Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006


Section 803 of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-435, formerly HR 6407) requires that the Post Office pre-fund all of its 75-year out health benefits over the course of only 10 years.  The usual business practice is to fund only 30 percent.


Not content with giving the Post Office an economic burden that no other entity has to cope with, Section 102 of the Act also prohibits the Post Office from offering the non-postal, entrepreneurial services that other nations frequently allow their systems to provide.


In sum, Congress burdened our mail delivery system with:


(i) out-of-pocket costs that no other enterprise has to cope with




(ii) simultaneously made it impossible for Post Office to think of other ways to raise money.


How’s that for revealing the plutocratic politics behind this commons-destroying insanity?


Journalist Matt Taibbi hypothesized:


The transparent purpose of this law, which was pushed heavily by industry lobbyists, was to break a public sector union and privatize the mail industry.


© 2012 Matt Taibbi, Don't Let Business Lobbyists Kill the Post Office, Rolling Stone (23 April 2012)



“So why couldn’t private companies do a better job than the Post Office, Pete?”


Economics.  The Post Office subsidizes rural mail delivery.  Private entities are not going to do that at affordable rates.


And, if you don’t ship packages frequently, you may not recognize how much cheaper it is to send packages via the Post Office, as compared to United Parcel Service and UPS.  The difference in cost is not trivial.


So why should citizens be asked to fork over their money to private entities to do a job that the Post Office already does more efficiently for less money?


In economic terms Congress’ actions in regard to the Post Office comprise a mandated economic inefficiency.  The 2006 Act works against the national interest by making the economic productivity that we have now more expensive, without simultaneously gaining the nation anything of provable value.


Yet, despite this economic and national interest stupidity, the Act remains in force, and we are probably going to lose the Post Office because of it.



The moral? — It is time for rational Americans to start bashing unregulated greed at the ballot box


Wise human beings have long recognized that avarice is a moral and institutional short-coming.  Nevertheless, modern Americans seem to think unfettered greed is a virtue.


If we keep going at the rate we are in destroying our own commons, we’re going to devolve into a band of volubly scrabbling apes living on concrete rubble — wondering why our Asian friends surpassed us in technological expertise and national strength.


All this from a parable about the U.S. Post Office.