The White House reportedly rejected a recent funding request from the US Postal Service, which predicted that it would soon run out of cash flow, thanks in part to coronavirus. Based on a quick glance at my Twitter feed, there are lots of people who are understandably concerned that this is all part of a larger GOP plot to destroy USPS, along with all other public institutions.
Considering that the Post Office would actually be a successful business if not for the GOP-sponsored Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, sometimes known as "one of the most insane laws Congress ever enacted," this is a valid concern. When people say that USPS is not a profitable business, it's specifically because of that law, which legally forbids them from making a profit, and also requires the Postal Service to fully refund its retirees' benefits 75 years in advance. No other company or organization — public or private — has ever done something that absurd. And it was clearly a deliberate move.
But here's the thing: they're never going to get rid of the Postal Service, not entirely. Because USPS is the only entity that will ship live scorpions. And that's an important public service. (Yes, they technically say that it has to be "for the purposes of medical research use or the manufacture of antivenin" but that's easy to get around.)
It shouldn't be surprising, then, that the aforementioned Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 was sponsored by members of the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC — for whom UPS's vice president of corporate public affairs serves as the second vice chairman of their private enterprise advisory board, and for whom at least one FedEx employee serves on the executive committee for ALEC's Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force.
See, the US Postal Service doesn't actually get any funding from taxpayers. But it is a major competitor for FedEx and UPS, because the self-funded organization is able to keep prices down without worrying about maximizing shareholder value. This mandate (along with its entire existence) is also written directly into the Constitution, all of which means that so-called Constitutional Conservatives can't just get rid of it entirely, because that would open a big ol' can of Constitutional worms.
But what they can do — if you were FedEx or UPS, what you would do to enshrine that necessary corporate profit margin — is to find a way to pass off 1/3 of your services to a public organization who's also your biggest competitor, and legally mandated to provide the very same service that you profit from. Shunt off those externalities, use your lobbying efforts to cripple the competition at the knee just enough so that it can keep doing your job for you, and watch the cash roll in. That's how capitalism works, baby.
So don't worry. They're never going to completely abolish the US Postal Service. Because they carry scorpions. You've heard the fable of the scorpion and the frog, right? The scorpion asks the frog to carry it across the river on its back. The frog says, "Wait, but aren't you going to sting me and kill me?" To which the scorpion replies, "Why would I do that? Then I would drown." The frog, convinced by this logic, agrees to take the scorpion across — and lo and behold, the scorpion stings the frog before they reach the other shore. As the dying frog drowns, it asks the scorpion, "Why did you do that? You're going to kill us both!" And the scorpion just says, "It's in my nature."
The USPS is a crucial component of our freedom. But it also delivers scorpions.
White House rejects bailout for U.S. Postal Service battered by coronavirus [Jacob Bogage / Washington Post]
For FedEx and UPS, a Cheaper Route: the Post Office [Laura Stevens / Wall Street Journal]
Congress, Not Amazon, Messed Up the Post Office [Barry Ritholtz / Bloomberg Opinion]
Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office? [Jesse Lichtenstein / Esquire]
USPS is a 'formidable opponent' to UPS, FedEx [Shefali Kapadia / Supply Chain Dive]
The post office is the ‘last mile’ in customer service [The Herald Times]
ALEC wants to privatize it all [Melissa Rakestraw / The Socialist Worker]
Who’s pushing post office privatization? [Joseph Piette / Workers World]
Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Benjamin N. Valmoja (Public Domain)