There is only one word to describe yesterday's announcement that the United States Congress will not permit the Post Office to stop delivering mail on Saturdays: Insanity. Complete and utter insanity, if you prefer four words.
This is just one more sad example of how unwilling our elected officials are to make any potentially unpopular decision, even if it's critically necessary to address the nation's rapidly expanding addiction to spending cash that we don't have.
The United States Postal Service may well be the world's worst business. Compare the USPS to Amtrak, which loses money at an alarming rate and only stays alive due to government backing. Amtrak might as well be Google when stacked up against the Postal Service. Amtrak only lost $361 million last fiscal year. The USPS lost $15.9 billion. Describing the United States Postal Service as "unprofitable" or "struggling" is like describing Yao Ming as "tall." Let's call the USPS what it is: A black hole where tax dollars go to disappear.
To be fair, it is not the USPS's fault that it loses such a ridiculously large amount of money. For that, we can blame Congress, which requires by law that the Post Office pay nearly $5.5 billion a year for health benefits to future retirees, a requirement that Congress has not burdened any other government agency with. Couple that stroke of legislative genius with the fact that first-class mail volume has declined by 37 percent since 2007 and you have a recipe for eye-popping losses.
The Post Office has responded to these facts as any remotely competent business person would: by taking a hard look at the balance sheet and figuring out how they can trim their out-of-control spending. The USPS settled upon eliminating Saturday delivery, which would cut billions by dramatically reducing staff hours and equipment costs. But Congress, being Congress, has foreclosed that possibility since 1981 by tying USPS funding to the requirement that it deliver mail six days a week.
Earlier this year, the USPS tried to sliver past congressional idiocy, arguing that it could stop delivering mail on Saturdays so long as it continued to deliver packages. This drew the ire of several members of Congress. So now, the Post Office has backed down. It will continue to deliver mail on Saturdays, and will continue to lose boatloads of money delivering mail that we use so much less than we used to.
Look, in a perfect world, I too would like Saturday delivery. I also would like the mail workers to continue to get paid for that extra day of delivery. I would like every little town to have its own Post Office. That kind of service is a win for everyone: It provides jobs for workers and services for the rest of us. But, as the Rolling Stones once informed us, you can't always get what you want.
Rather than burying its head in the sand and hoping that one day people will start using the mail again, Congress should cut Saturday delivery and spend the savings on job training for the workers who will be thrown out of work as a result.
And let's be honest: How much do we really need Saturday delivery? FedEx, UPS, and email are not going anywhere. Your messages and packages can still arrive on Saturday, regardless of the USPS schedule.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The troubling persistence of eugenicist thought in modern America
- Libertarianism's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea
- Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon
- Christian conservatives have a terrifying new bogeyman: The Christian leftist
- 10 things you need to know today: September 30, 2014
- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
- How the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover revealed the worst of both shows
- 10 innovative furniture designs that brilliantly save you space
Subscribe to the Week