Thursday, June 23, 2005

Junk Government Sponsors Junk Mail

After one particularly bad day, when I pulled from my mailbox a handful of cheap advertisements and not the letter I was expecting, I decided to install a waste can next to my mailbox. My postal deliverer was a nice guy. I was going to ask him to drop all that junk mail into the waste can after he put first class mail in my mailbox. It made sense to me.

“Oh, no! We’re not allowed to do that,” the delivery man told me. “We have to put all items in your mail box, including third class mail.” Junk mail to me was third class to him. He told me I could talk to the manager of the local Post Office, if I wanted.

So I did interview the local, very courteous Postal Service manager. I didn’t get him to agree to dump third class mail, but I learned something about it.

“It is officially called third class mail,” the manager began. He just smiled when I called it junk mail (I think he secretly agreed with me). And during our discussion he also said, in effect, that the Postal Service was the force behind junk mail. It needed extra revenue, so it offered to deliver advertisements to everyone’s door for a fee less than first class rates, as long as the ads were bundled and pre-sorted. The Service was going to each house anyway, so it sought to add a few cents of revenue per house for very little cost.

The fact that hundreds of thousands of trees have to be destroyed each time a third class mailing takes place and that dumps are filling up is no concern to the Postal Service. They are in a financial bind and want more revenue.

Why is the Postal Service in a financial bind? Congress is stingy about raising mail rates. So is the public stingy with the number of first class mailings it makes. As the price of a stamp rises, so do alternate methods of sending information. The fax machine dealt the Postal Service a mean blow. Then emails have been even rougher competition. Long ago the number of private emails per year passed the number of first class mailings per year. Now, many of us are being billed electronically and we are paying our bills electronically. Another large chunk of first class mail has disappeared.

The Postal Service does not lay off its employees easily. So it is stuck with too many employees, union rules that make efficiencies difficult and declining numbers of mailings. It raises rates which result in even fewer items mailed. Thus, revenues are declining and show no indication of returning to needed levels. The future of the Postal Service looks bleak. The only useful playing card in its hand is that Congress has given it a monopoly on the handling of first class mail. It is just another example of Government being years behind in technology.

Maybe someone, somewhere, in the Postal Service will come up with an idea that will allow the Service to improve revenues and possibly break even. Until then, expect lots of junk mail. It is your government at work.

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