The US Postal Service lost $0

The Postal Service doesn't actually lose money. It relies on public funding to help cover its costs because it's a public service -- and it ought to remain that way.

It's right there in the name -- and it's right there in the Constitution, which authorizes Congress to establish post offices without a word about turning a profit. [...]

Few people think of the National Park Service or the United States military as bureaucracies that "lose" money, even though they cost the government billions of dollars. So why should the Postal Service be treated any differently?

By design, the Postal Service was destined to spend more money than it makes. This was arguably best articulated in the Postal Policy Act of 1958, which stated that the post office is "clearly not a business enterprise conducted for profit." To the contrary, Congress noted, mail delivery is a public service that promotes "social, cultural, intellectual, and commercial intercourse among the people of the United States." Indeed, the post office was thought of by the Founders as a means to connect Americans to each other at little cost, and to ensure that the public is well informed -- a critical need for any democracy, especially a young one as the United States was at the time -- by subsidizing the delivery of newspapers.

For most of its existence, the post office was a federal department and the postmaster general was a member of the president's cabinet. As a result, Congress funded it just as it did all other federal departments. That changed in 1970, when Congress, under Richard Nixon, passed the Postal Reorganization Act, which turned it into an independent federal agency that was required to cover most of its costs, with little help from Congress. Since then, the rhetoric of "profits" and "losses" at the post office took hold.

Fucking Nixon.

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19 Responses:

  1. Andrew Klossner says:

    Actually, the Postal Reorganization Act was a response to a eight-day postal strike of 1970 and was a major victory for unions. It gave postal workers the right to collective bargaining. It's still cited by unions as good policy.

    The real problem was the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which hobbled USPS by requiring that they prefund 75 years worth of retiree health benefits in ten years. USPS couldn't afford do that that, and those missed payments comprise their massive debt. Congress could fix all this by removing this requirement.

  2. JD says:

    seems like a very cogent argument could be made for the idea that the Constitution demands public broadband everywhere specifically because of the mission with which the USPS is charged. a postal service was the closest thing to an internet they had in 1789.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      Sure, the US Federal Government did previously put a bunch of resources into ensuring all its population could get telephone service because just like the letter post before and the Internet after it's essential to the country's economy that as many of its people as possible have access.

      [ The Public Switched Telephone Network was the obvious step along the road from the letter post to the Internet ]

      But, one of the US political parties is strongly against direct interventions like the Post Office. Instead it believes fervently in the Protestant Work Ethic. Labour is good, and as a proxy for measuring Labour, which is good, you can take income, because (as we all know) if a person is paid twice as much that means they worked twice as hard. As a proxy for income we can measure wealth. To reward this wealth hard work then, the hard workers like Donald Trump must be given more wealth. This idea doesn't work, but that's not really the point, it does benefit some of its biggest believers very much. And it has the added benefit unintended consequence that it reinforces centuries of racism while keeping up a thin pretense not to be itself racist as a policy.

      Don't give a man a fish, force him at gunpoint to go fishing, put him into permanent debt to pay for the tools in installments, then call him "ungrateful" unless he praises you for giving him food, even if you dumped toxic waste into the lake and so the fish are poison.

      So the best you can hope for is market manipulation to give money to capitalists who maybe as a byproduct of making a profit will do something that actually benefits society. For example Elon Musk would like more Federal dollars for his project that fills the sky with satellites, on the argument that maybe in rural America where broadband service is poor a subsidy could make his satellites an affordable way to access the Internet. Right now the government proposes to make this money available if SpaceX can prove the result is actually not shit. We shall see.

    • Lloyd says:

      That's what Australia has been aiming for with its national broadband network.

  3. thielges says:

    I’m a little concerned that the USPS is being maneuvered into being a de facto asset of the for-profit parcel delivery companies. The USPS is obligated to deliver to all Americans no matter how remote. They get paid the same to deliver a package to San Francisco or a remote Alaskan island. But the cost to the latter is much greater than the postage paid.

    Amazon and their ilk already use the heavily subsidized USPS parcel service to unprofitable remote addresses. Free shipping indeed. With the changes the postmaster general is now implementing, the post office might be being set up to “split” the delivery from fedex, Amazon, etc. with the USPS being stuck with the highest cost last bit that requires driving miles down twisty remote mountain roads. The old “socialize losses, privatize profits” brand of klepto-capitalism (which isn’t capitalism at all, it is simply theft of public funds)

    Instead the USPS should do a 180 on parcel delivery. Just declare that there’s no sense in competing with our fine homegrown private parcel delivery services and instead focus on letter delivery. Delivering election packets, social security checks, job applications, ballots, etc. are a lot more central to democracy than making sure a Dyson vacuum cleaner can be routed to a Montana address.

  4. Konohamaru says:

    What was Nixon's extremely mild crime of wiretapping compared to W's crimes of bringing back slavery (immigration) and dooming the Earth (climate change)? Nothing President Trump did, does, or will do would have had any significance were it not for W the Forerunner's foundation. In fact, his anti-immigration stance might end slavery, so he's making things better.

    • Dude says:

      Nixon - in addition to 1) exacerbating the Viet Nam war to point that he had to end it, 2) working with Kaiser to create a lot of the bullshit health insurance loopholes that continue to fuck over US citizens of all ailments, and 3) lowering taxes for the rich - was also the asshole who intentionally started the bullshit "War on Drugs" as a means of attacking Black and left-leaning political groups.

      As for Dubya, whose crimes you seem to think insignificant:
      1 - he stole the 2000 election by specifically discounting the votes of 1 million registered Black voters.
      2 - he trampled over civil liberties with not-one-but-two versions of the so-called “Patriot Act”.
      3 - He actively campaigned on homophobia and anti-Islamic bigotry during his 2004 re-election campaign.
      4 - He had the chance to kill bin Laden in December of 2001 (ie. right after 9/11), but let him get away.
      5 - He started two – count ‘em TWO – wars in the Middle East.
      6 - sank the $1trillion+ economy Clinton put together.
      7 - his tax policies led to the 2008 Great Recession.
      8 - he signed off on the torture at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo.
      9 - used every dirty trick he could to win the 2000 primary over John McCain.
      10 - he insists “the jury’s still out” on the proven sciences of evolution and climate change.

      NONE OF THAT is insignificant. There's a reason the late Vincent Bugliosi (the guy who put away Manson) wrote a book entitled The Prosectution of George W. Bush for Murder.

      Just because Trump is the latest in a long line of human-shit-stains doesn't mean his shit smells any less.

    • Dude says:

      Re-reading your initial comment, I see that you weren't downplaying Dubya's crimes - my mistake for misreading.

      Still, that doesn't change the fact that both Nixon and Trump are not forgiven for their horrible crimes because of what Dubya did. If anyting, the Nixon-to-Trump scale shows how much worse the Republican Party has gotten with each successive administration (something pointed out in the video I attached).

      If you don't think that Trump is as bad as Dubya, keep in mind that as bad as Dubya was (and he fucking was), he never destroyed mail boxes, kidnapped peaceful protesters before tossing them into unmarked vans (he just saved that folks he sent to Gitmo), or promised to have armed troops staked out at polling stations to guarantee his own victory.

      Trump fucking horrible on his own, without the "foundation" you speak of.

      • Konohamaru says:

        > exacerbating the Vietnam war to point that he had to end it

        When we failed to win the Korean War, the result was North Korea becoming an open-air concentration camp. There was no way to know that the same thing wouldn't have happened to Vietnam had the Viet Cong won. It turns out that it didn't happen, but that was not known at the time.

        > working with Kaiser to create a lot of the bullshit health insurance loopholes that continue to fuck over US citizens of all ailments

        I don't know enough about this to comment.

        > lowering taxes for the rich

        This wasn't as destructive back in the 70s as it is now. The reason is because taxation is designed to control the amount of financial assets that are liquid and when unemployment is high lowering taxes increases the supply of financial assets. This isn't "trickle-down economics" (or as I like to call it the horse-and-sparrow theory) because in the 70's tax havens didn't exist so financial assets unbound by tax cuts genuinely did become liquid. The 50s to the 70s was the ideal time for a correctly-planned economy because the wealthy had no choice but to accept whatever tax policy Congress set: Europe was destroyed, Asia was undeveloped, and the only other economy was the communist Soviet Union!

        > he never destroyed mail boxes

        He did something much worse, which I will not elaborate on because I don't want the FBI on my tail.

        > kidnapped peaceful protesters before tossing them into unmarked vans (he just saved that folks he sent to Gitmo)

        "Don't tase me bro! BWAAAAAAA~" W. was more subversive toward peaceful protests than Trump was, because Trump is generally speaking oblivious but W. wasn't and W. used an unofficial militia to terrorize people into not protesting. Trump supporters--unlike W.'s--are surprisingly ununited.

        > promised to have armed troops staked out at polling stations to guarantee his own victory.

        Point granted. W didn't do this.

        • Dude says:

          ...I will not elaborate on because I don't want the FBI on my tail.

          Ooooookayyyy.... It's bad enough you're trying to suggest that Nixon lowering taxes for the rich "wasn't as destructive" (it was), that Dubya (the guy so dumb he put his dad's VP to shame) is some Machiavellian supervillain rather than Hanlon's Razor personified, or that you sound like you're trying to sell an Alex Jones-esque novel about a different outcome for 'Nam.

          But the FBI thing is not only "tinfoil hat material", it suggests you need serious help that you're not getting.

          • Konohamaru says:

            > Dubya (the guy so dumb he put his dad's VP to shame)

            https://keithhennessey.com/2013/04/24/smarter/

            Who told you he was dumb? Bush himself, because he put on an act that he was a dumb, ignorant Texan Southerner, even though he grew up in the most uppercrust strata of New England.

            > Ooooookayyyy.... It's bad enough you're trying to suggest that Nixon lowering taxes for the rich "wasn't as destructive" (it was)

            According to which economic model?

            > or that you sound like you're trying to sell an Alex Jones-esque novel about a different outcome for 'Nam.

            If something very bad happened when we lost the Korean war, how could Nixon have known the very same thing wouldn't have repeated in Vietnam?

            > But the FBI thing is not only "tinfoil hat material", it suggests you need serious help that you're not getting.

            Here's what I say to people who scoff at the notion that there's a conspiracy: "the greatest trick the Devil pulled on humanity is convincing us that he doesn't exist!" That became a common English proverb because it contains great wisdom, friend :)

        • tfb says:

          So, 'in the 70's tax havens didn't exist': that's a clever comment because people reading it will obviously assume you mean the 1970s but really you mean between 70CE and 80CE, right? Even then, I'm not sure.

          Because, obviously, you're aware that tax havens existed in the 1970s.

          • Konohamaru says:

            Yes, there was Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands... and those were it. Any money that went offshore to tax havens would have ended up in the U.S. economy because there was nowhere else to go. Businessmen are not going to go and build infrastructure in China just to stick it to the US economy in the short term. They cannot, in fact: developing an economy (as opposed to exploiting the resources in third-world countries) requires many factors outside of the control of businessmen. It wasn't until the 90's that those conditions for a multipolar economy were right.

            • tfb says:

              If you think there were only two tax havens in the 1970s, well, that's kind of sad really.

          • Nick Lamb says:

            Yeah, I'm guessing not a lot of tax havens in 70CE because of two factors necessary to an effective tax haven.

            Firstly you want the Network, because otherwise dealing with the tax haven is a huge pain in the backside. So, for that you're going to want to wait for the 19th century (Treaty of Bern). You don't need a fancy digital packet switched network, but having to send messengers on horseback to a distant outpost to undertake transactions on your behalf isn't really practical, and if you have to actually live and work there to take advantage of the tax regime that's not a tax haven.

            And also you want the Rule of Law. That's why the UK and US are such important tax havens today, they have Rule of Law (at least for the time being with Trump tearing down everything). Crooks don't hide money in places without effective rule of law because other crooks just steal your money. If you're a Russian who looted billions from various schemes in the post-communist era any of your money sat in a Russian bank account becomes Putin's money at a snap of his fingers, whereas money sat in a Private bank in England is yours, at least for now†. I'm not confident of an effective Rule of Law in many places in 70CE.

            †Since 2017 the Unexplained Wealth Order is a problem. Upon being shown evidence that you seem to have a tremendous amount of money for no obvious reason, an English judge might demand an explanation for how you came by it. You will need to hire lawyers to provide a plausible justification that doesn't involve anything obviously illegal e.g. probably don't put "When I was President of the National Bank of Elbonia I transferred the country's gold deposits to my personal account in New York and robbed them of every penny". But such orders are very rare.

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