Privatize first-class mail and other Post Office services?
Historically, the United States government has maintained a post
office, originally as a Cabinet department but lately as a
“public-private partnership.” Under that arrangement, one company, by
law, has a monopoly on delivering mail of certain “classes.” (Other
companies can deliver express mail, or parcels.)
The Constitution at least authorizes this.
The Congress shall have the power…to establish post offices and post roads.
That has not stopped other companies from challenging the monopoly
that the United States Postal Service enjoys. But the government, or the
labor unions of Post Office/Postal Service employees, have guarded the government’s monopoly on first-class mail—simple letters.
In 1844, Lysander Spooner challenged
the Post Office monopoly with his American Letter Mail Company. The
government took various legal measures and closed him down in 1851. The
government took so long only because many federal juries nullified
the Private Express Statutes and acquitted Spooner’s messengers. (Jury
nullification can set one defendant, or group of defendants, free one
time. It can never set a binding precedent.)
In 1968, Thomas Murray formed the Independent Postal System of America. Time said this about IPSA in 1968:
Shades of Wells Fargo and the old Pony Express. In cities
throughout Oklahoma last week, a pair of young businessmen, Thomas
Murray, 43, and Darrel Hinshaw, 31, were operating their own private
postal system in direct competition with Uncle Sam—and making money at
it too. No wonder. The U.S. Post Office these days is a monument to
inefficiency, and week after week the catalogue of complaints grows
If any of that sounds familiar, it should. The present US Postal Service does no better than the old Post Office did.
IPSA at first carried only third- and fourth-class mail. But when that company tried to carry first-class mail, four different letter carriers’ unions sued them. Though those unions lost
at trial, the legal expenses were too great for the company to carry.
The company collapsed in the mid-1970′s. (Note: some of these were the
same unions that called a strike against the Post Office. In reply, President Richard M. Nixon deployed troops to sort the mail.)
The Hawaii Post and Rattlesnake Island posts are the only two “local
posts” that run today. They serve communities that are too remote for
the current US Postal Service to serve.
The only other companies that competed with the Post Office for any
of its services were United Parcel Service and the old Railway Express
Agency. Then came Federal Express, which launched the boldest business
model yet: overnight delivery from any part of the country to any other.
They, too, challenged the Post Office, especially in their advertising.
Finally the Postal Service Commission made a new rule: any First Class mail pieces in an overnight express envelope must each bear a USPS stamp. Can we say, Stamp Act?
Today the USPS must shut down
several post office stations and mail-sorting plants. The reason:
electronic mail has displaced longhand or typed letters for most
messages. Already the unions are pushing a bill to stop the USPS from
doing this. Yet the putative President has already proposed to stop
delivering or picking up mail on Saturday.
So how about it? Did Lysander Spooner and Tom Murray have the right idea? Could private companies handle first-class mail better?
See Votes by State
News & Politics