Cato Policy Analysis No. 146 February 1, 1991

Policy Analysis

Slower Is Better:
The New Postal Service

by James Bovard

James Bovard is an associate policy analyst of the Cato Institute and the author of The Farm Fiasco (ICS Press, 1989).


Executive Summary

The U.S. Postal Service is combining the largest increase in stamp prices with the greatest intentional slowdown in mail delivery in U.S. history. Billions of letters a year are being delayed as part of a novel scheme to "improve mail service." Postmaster General Anthony Frank has emerged as America's grand champion of Doublespeak with his endless misrepresentations of the Postal Service's performance.

In l764 colonial postmaster general Benjamin Franklin announced a goal of two-day mail delivery between New York City and Philadelphia.(1) In 1991 the Postal Service considers it a "success" to deliver mail from New York City to next-door Westchester County in two days.(2) The average first-class letter now takes 22 percent longer to reach its destination than it did in 1969.(3) If the current trend continues, the Postal Service may soon be charging people a storage fee for each letter they mail.

Frank declared in 1989 that the Postal Service is "the most efficient and most loved American institution."(4) In September 1990 he declared that the Postal Service is "better than 99.5 percent perfect"--meaning, according to Frank, that fewer than 1 of every 200 letters "is delayed, missorted or touched by some mistake."(5) In reality, the Postal Service is trying to solve its problems by shredding its customers. The worse the Postal Service's failures, the more grandiose its rhetoric.

The Postal Service is becoming increasingly secretive. Last August it ceased divulging data on the number of Express Mail letters that arrive late. Last November it refused to divulge key information from a $23 million test that revealed how many letters postal workers lose or throw away each year. In recent years the Postal Service appears to have knowingly violated Federal Trade Commission regulations on false advertising, and it may have also violated the U.S. Mail Fraud Act.

Mail service in America is slow and unreliable because the government has a monopoly. Private companies can only deliver letters pursuant to an exemption to the private express statutes. Ironically, such exemptions are granted by the Postal Service itself. Under the current exemption, private companies must charge more than $3 per letter and more than double the price the Postal Service would charge for the same letter. As long as the Postal Service can legally quash its competitors, it need not exert itself for its customers.

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1991 The Cato Institute
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