Joel Belz: Half a post office

KENT COVINGTON, HOST: Good morning! It’s Wednesday, April 18th. This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Kent Covington.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. The United States Postal Service has struggled to compete in the 21st century marketplace. WORLD founder Joel Belz has an idea of how to fix the problem.

JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: I don’t get many billion-dollar ideas. So when I do, I hope that the people who count will take it seriously.

The idea is to save the United States Postal Service before it implodes and collapses of its own weight. I suggest that we radically reduce the USPS’s costs by cutting back service to all of us.

How about if everyone with even numbered ZIP codes gets their mail delivered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays? Those with odd numbered ZIP codes would get service on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

I can already hear the squawks and squeals of those whose habits will take a bit of revision. But the fact is: most of us would hardly notice the difference. We’d get along just fine.

The USPS of 2018 is a radically different operation from the post office most of us grew up with. It’s fascinating to consider some of the reasons why—like competition, a pension crisis, labor union costs, and inefficient vehicles.

But the real reason the postal service writes most of its communications in red ink is summed up in a single word: Internet.

It delivers your mail almost instantly. It goes to whole lists of folks as quickly as it does a single person. It allows you to include all sorts of attachments—without worrying that the envelope may weigh too much.

It offers all this service at virtually no cost. How do you beat that?

The USPS folks tell us that in the year 2011 they delivered an average of about four pieces of mail daily to each address in our country. This year that number is down to three pieces. And the USPS predicts the number will drop below two pieces by 2020. In other words, in this decade, postal service workload is being cut in half!

For any other business, such a ruinous downfall in volume would have shuttered the operation for good. Only the unending patience of Congress has spared the USPS that fate. No, Congress doesn’t technically cover losses that have averaged $5.1 billion a year for the last decade. Instead, it “guarantees” USPS’s deficit, pretending that maybe things will turn around in the future.

Let’s stop the pretending. With a President in office who seems to like bold moves, let’s have a presidential order that limits USPS operations to what its cash revenues actually warrant.

Living with discipline always involves a little discomfort. And when it comes to the USPS’s multi-billion dollar losses, a little discomfort would sure beat no mail delivery at all.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Joel Belz.

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) A recruiter from the postal service, right, speaks with an attendee of a job fair in the cafeteria of Deer Lakes High School, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 in Cheswick, Pa.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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