The long-term prospects for the U.S. Postal Service monopoly are bleak. To help stem the flow of red ink, the USPS intends to seek a rate increase. Only a government monopoly would try to raise prices when the demand for its services is plummeting. The rate increase will only push its already declining customer base to use cheaper, more efficient electronic alternatives.
The USPS is in need of drastic reform, but instead of looking at big picture, Congress is hung up on the USPS’s request to eliminate Saturday mail delivery service. In contrast, countries around the world are continuing to liberalize their postal markets by embracing competition and private sector involvement.
Britain is a good example.
In 1969, the British Post Office transformed from a government agency into a corporation, which would come to be known as Royal Mail. However, the company’s shares are owned by the government. In 2006, Royal Mail’s regulator removed its monopoly and opened British mail delivery to full competition, which the postal unions opposed.
Like their counterparts in the U.S., the British postal unions are a hindrance to effective and efficient postal management. With email and other technologies undermining traditional mail, neutering the inflexibility caused by unions is paramount for mail operations here and abroad.
According to the Daily Mail, the British government is now prepared to take the next step: privatization. In doing so, the government is considering transferring a portion of Royal Mail’s shares to its employees. Giving the employees ownership stakes would inhibit the unions’ ability to extract concessions that would negatively affect the company’s bottom line.
A popular argument against mail privatization in the U.S. is that an important service can’t be entrusted to self-interested capitalists concerned only with making a profit. But public officials are just as motivated by self-interest. The difference is that public officials aren’t subject to market forces, which compel private businesses to adapt and economize to survive.
For example, the third-ranking official at the USPS stepped down in May after it came to light that he awarded six-figure, no-bid contracts to former colleagues at various companies.
A 64-page report by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General found that [Robert F.] Bernstock clashed with Postal Service lawyers over whether he could conduct outside business by using agency computers, e-mail and staff… Bernstock also used office telephones to conduct teleconferences and other meetings related to his private business holdings and also instructed staffers to conduct private work for him, investigators found.
The report details how Bernstock awarded non competitive contracts to five former business associates and a $1.5 million consultant deal with Goldman Sachs. He also violated company policy by negotiating a holiday bulk stamp sale agreement with Costco while owning $30,000 in company stock. The Postal Service requires officials owning more than $15,000 in a company’s stock to recuse themselves from any official dealings with the company.