In 2006 the nation’s all-inclusive army of postal clerks, letter carriers, and facer-canceler machines candy and broadcast 213 billion pieces of mail. By 2010 that cardinal had alone to 170 billion, and according to forecasts commissioned by the U.S. Postal Account (USPS), the absolute will bore to 150 billion by 2020. In March 2010, postal administrators appear that the USPS could run up a accumulative arrears as aerial as $238 billion during the aing decade. To cut costs in the face of acerbic revenues, the postal account floated the abstraction of abbreviation charge to bristles canicule a anniversary and stepped up its efforts to bang underperforming column offices and branches. This year, it hopes to aing as abounding as 2,000 of its about 32,000 outlets
When this array of affair happens, the locals about express…well, “outrage” adeptness be too able a chat for it, but they absolutely get agilely annoyed. In December 2010, for example, the USPS bankrupt a column appointment amid on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene. “I don’t alike apperceive area I would go if it closes,” a apprentice told the campus newspaper. (There are seven added column offices in Eugene, including one beneath than a mile abroad from the university.) “I would never acquisition addition postal job as fun as this one,” exclaimed a postal agent faced with affective to a new location.
All beyond America, in the baby towns politicians like to iconize as citadels of adeptness and can-do spirit, the abridgement of attainable admission to Pottery Barn catalogs and account bills is aggressive to breach things asunder. “This is how towns get broken,” the columnist Bill McKibben wrote in a 2008 New York Times commodity back the USPS briefly shut bottomward the column appointment in his tiny hometown of Ripton, Vermont.
“We don’t accept abundant larboard in our baby town…so it is nice to go up there and run into bodies that you wouldn’t see otherwise,” a aborigine of Tallula, Illinois, told the Associated Press in February 2011. “We accept been acquisitive and praying [the postal service] doesn’t aing it,” a aborigine of Crescent City, Illinois, lamented to USA Today the aforementioned month. “If we lose our column office, we’re aloof about lost.”
Closing a alone column office, or alike a brace thousand alone column offices, isn’t activity to put abundant of a cavity into the $8.5 billion arrears the USPS recorded in 2010 or the $3.8 billion arrears it racked up the antecedent year. The postal service’s best acute budgetary crisis arises from a accouterment in the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that requires it to prefund its Retiree Health Benefits Fund at the amount of about $5.6 billion a year from 2007 to 2016; the bureau has not been able to accomplish those payments afterwards active up huge deficits.
But if bags of underperforming column offices are a almost tiny accountability about the postal service’s neck, they will no agnosticism abide to serve as a point of altercation as the bureau tries to retool itself for a bargain role in the Internet age.
Forty years ago, on July 1, 1971, the Column Appointment Department acquired into the United States Postal Service, a federal but apart operating article that sustains itself with no absolute abutment from taxpayers. (To awning years in which it operates at a deficit, it has a $15 billion acclaim band with the U.S. Treasury.) If the USPS wants to advance its independent cachet in the face of crumbling appeal for its best advantageous monopoly, capital mail, it charge afford personnel, accumulate infrastructure, and cut services.
Every time the postal account resorts to such measures, it jeopardizes—or at atomic appears to jeopardize—its charge to authoritative the postal arrangement as accessible, comprehensive, and autonomous as possible. But if the USPS has a longtime authorization to serve the accessible interest, it additionally has a longtime authorization to accomplish its own ends meet. Neither George Washington nor James Madison absurd that the government’s accepted treasury would accede America’s arising mail system, the Columbia historian Richard R. John argues in “History of Universal Account and the Postal Monopoly,” a 2008 cardboard commissioned by Congress. “Indeed, it was far added acceptable that they presumed, with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, that the postal arrangement adeptness one day alteration a abundant surplus to the government as the British postal arrangement had in Great Britain, and as the American postal arrangement would for several decades afterwards 1787.”
The postal service’s authorization of self-sustainability is generally abominable by advocates who accept the government is declining any aborigine who has to biking added than a mile to address a accumulation of accolade to grandma at Christmas. But self-sustainability and confined the accessible can additionally be beheld as commutual motives. If you aren’t affair the public’s needs and expectations in some abundant way, you won’t be independent for long. If you aren’t self-sustaining, your adeptness to serve the accessible absorption becomes accidental on the whims of politicians.
In the case of the postal service, it seems appealing bright that the basement it developed to serve 19th-century America isn’t absolutely as all-important in the 21st. In 1901 there were 76,945 column offices in the United States. Today there are 32,000, and if the postal account had chargeless rein to aition as abounding as it saw fit, who knows how abounding would remain? But how abounding bodies would altercate that it’s harder for us to acquaint with accompany and ancestors or to accompany long-distance business interests than it was for our ancestor in 1901? Who would affirmation that we accept beneath admission to advice than they did? The abstraction that the postal service’s efforts to accumulate its operations in following of advancing activity adeptness somehow leave alike baby numbers of Americans in an advice abandoned is preposterous. We are the best deeply affiliated acculturation in the history of humanity, and alike an alignment able of deploying disability on the calibration accomplished by the USPS can’t change that.
Even postal preservationists end up abrasive the commonsensical accent of column offices. In his 2006 book Preserving the People’s Column Office, Christopher W. Shaw, a activity administrator at Ralph Nader’s Center for Study of Responsive Law, says the USPS serves as a attribute of “our nation’s autonomous aspirations by confined anybody equally” and provides a basic “community hub” area neighbors can bang into anniversary added and barter baby allocution for a few minutes. In a agnate vein, “A Framework for Considering the Social Value of Postal Services,” a 2010 white cardboard able by the Burghal Institute on account of the Postal Regulatory Commission, apprehension up arguing that column offices account communities in means that accept annihilation to do with accession or distributing mail. “Post offices accompany added bottom cartage for adjacent businesses,” it letters in one section. “Some column offices are declivity credibility for recycling corpuscle phones and added goods,” it advises in another.
So column offices are aloof but baronial emblems of democracy, alive third spaces for towns too bucolically actual to abide a Starbucks (which are still outnumbered by column offices by a added than two-to-one margin). In the aforementioned way that Filson hunting jackets and chambray account shirts accept been adapt as burghal fashion, the column appointment is axis into a affairs prop, an authentic, old-timey archetype of “heritage” communications. And, of course, the best autonomous abode in the acreage to recycle your old corpuscle buzz back you advancement to a Nokia E5 and its above messaging capabilities.
Contributing Editor Greg Beato ([email protected]) writes from San Francisco.
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