Privatizing the post office is a really, really bad idea


Michael Hiltzik's column in the L.A. Times addresses the problems with privatizing the post office. He's spot on when he says there's an artificial fiscal crisis, and it would be a terrible idea.

The reason it's a fake crisis is that the Postal Service uniquely pre-funds retiree health care costs. Who else does that? Allison Kilkenny writes about that here:

"It's almost hard to comprehend what they're talking about, but basically they said that the Postal Service would have to fully fund future retirees' health benefits for the next 75 years and they would have to do it within a ten-year window," says Chuck Zlatkin, political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union.

It was an impossible order, and strangely, a task unshared by any other government service, agency, corporation or organization within the United States. The act meant that every September 30th, the USPS had to cough up $5.5 billion to the Treasury for the pre-funding of future retirees' health benefits, meaning the Postal Service pays for employees 75 years into the future. The USPS is funding the retirement packages of people who haven't even been born yet.

But politically speaking, why is the U.S. Postal Service such a target for the GOP?

It's heavily and effectively unionized, for one thing. For another, over a long period the post office has been a reliable steppingstone to the middle class for African American families. (Black workers make up about 11% of the USPS payroll, about twice their representation in the overall workforce.) Maybe some people just think these workers are expendable.

Oh, that. What a surprise that race would enter it. Who ever would have suspected?

Then there's that Republican fixation on government services:

If every government program were held to this standard, we would have no interstate highways. No international airports. No Internet. No levees on the Mississippi and no Hoover Dam.

These things were all designed or built precisely because private industry was unable to make a cost-effective case for the investment. In each case, however, it was understood sooner or later that, if the cost were spread out over the entire country and even over several generations, the expenditure would be plenty worthwhile

Privatizing is about profits, not about public service. That much is obvious. Need an example? How about the Internet Machine:

Don't overlook the evidence that big Internet providers such as Comcast are willing to torpedo open-Internet rules to benefit their own subsidiaries. These are the companies that will have a stranglehold on nationwide communications in a post-privatized world.

The good ol' U.S. mail is private, not privatized. Big Government can't open your mail without a court order. However, emails are a different story. Per Hiltzik, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other private email businesses can pretty much poke around your private email business without worry of being hauled off to privatized prisons.

Here's the bottom line:

Government is not a business, and citizens are not customers. Universal mail service is one of the defining characteristics of a civilized society, and why would anyone want to throw away something so precious at any price?

Answer: To make money.