Neither snow nor reality

Neither snow nor reality

May 15th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

A famous engraving on the exterior of a New York City post office reads, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

Maybe so, but the U.S. Postal Service is hemorrhaging money nonetheless. It is projected that on its current trajectory, it could be losing more than $18 billion per year by 2015.

Thousands of post offices -- particularly some in rural areas -- get little use, and many postal employees do not have enough to do to justify their positions.

If the Postal Service were, say, a restaurant chain, a massive reorganization and scaling back of rarely frequented eateries might be under way to make operations leaner and nimbler.

But the Postal Service -- which is permitted but not mandated by the Constitution -- is a quasi-governmental agency under at least a good bit of control of Congress.

And lots of members of Congress didn't like the news that the Postal Service was looking at closing almost 4,000 underused post offices. Ignoring inconvenient questions such as whether the country genuinely needs those facilities, the Senate passed a bill to block the closings.

Facing political pressure at the hands of lawmakers who do not have to fuss with such small matters as providing goods and services that the American people actually want -- which helps explain the bailouts, the "stimulus" and ObamaCare, by the way -- the agency recently backed off on the closings. And it did so despite its own governing board observing that it is "totally inappropriate in these economic times to keep unneeded facilities open. There is simply not enough mail in our system today."

Instead, some half-baked scheme to reduce operating hours at 13,000 or so post offices, including four dozen in the Chattanooga area, has been offered as a substitute.

Get this gem, reported by the Times Free Press: "The plan is expected to save $500 million a year ... ."

Don't even dream of being impressed by that figure.

Even if the projected $18 billion-plus in Postal Service losses by 2015 don't materialize, the agency is expected to lose more than $14 billion this year alone, barring significant changes. Five hundred million dollars isn't a good start on chipping away at those losses; it's an insult to the intelligence of a mediocre fifth-grade math student.

In fact, it is a picture of the federal government in miniature.

In the face of a $16 trillion national debt and entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security that are racing toward collapse, Congress dabbles with spending plans that do not even pretend to cut the sheer size and scope of the bloated federal government. Often it is deemed austerity in Washington merely to propose reducing the rate of growth of spending.

So can it come as any huge surprise that Congress is applying pressure to prevent the Postal Service from making necessary cuts, too -- even when the leadership of the agency itself recognizes the need to economize?

This is one more case of federal intervention that stymies the normal functioning of the free market. The Postal Service is being protected from the realities of the market -- realities including a massive shift in correspondence from snail mail to email.

Many in Congress see that set of circumstances not as a reason to scale back but as a reason to prop up.

Which probably tells you dreadfully more than you wanted to know about Congress.