Saturday, February 9, 2013

About the US Post Office

Lots of people love to point out that the USPS (United States Postal Service) has a budget shortfall.

There is a reason for this.

Once upon a time, 2006, the Democrats won enough seats to take back control of Congress.  However, they did not immediately do so because they didn't become official congresscritters until 2007.  In this country there is a gap between when someone is elected and when they take their position, in large part because most people, at the moment of their election, know the broad strokes of what they will be called on to do, but not the important details of how it actually works.  Thus the gap is supposed to serve as a training period.

But it can also serve as a revenge period.

Republicans were notably pissed off that the American people had just said that Republicans should not be in charge, no way, no how, no fucking way.  So in the gap, referred to as a lame duck session for reasons I'm not entirely clear on and am not going to look up at the moment, they decided to do some things.

One of the things they did was take aim at something that had long been a thorn in their side.  The Postal Service costs the taxpayers zero dollars, and works pretty damn well.  It's an example of government done right and there's a reason that FedEx and UPS both use the USPS to deliver to certain locations: it's not profitable for private industry to deliver there but the Postal Office does anyway.  Without the Postal Office either FedEx and UPS would simply not deliver to those places (thus cutting such people off from the rest of civilization) or FedEx and UPS would raise their rates.

So it's not just an example of government done right at no cost to the taxpayer, it's also an example of how government done right is in fact a boon to private industry.

For the longest time anyone arguing about government inefficiency or whatnot could be stopped in their tracks with two words, "Postal Service."  At that point of stopping they had some options, here is an in no way complete list:
1) Admit they're wrong.  (Never happened that I know of.)
2) Evasion, which makes them look like slimy weasels (good weasels are seldom slimy) who refuse to respond to a single simple point.
3) "Oh, yeah but that's a special case and ... government monopoly... free market... invisible hand... stuff," which never convinced anybody but did at least let those who were already convinced have an excuse to stay that way.
4) Lie their fucking asses off.

It really was, if you can remember back that far, something that annoyed the hell out of them.

So they made a law.  They passed a rule that said that the Post Office had to prefund retirement benefits 75 years in advance.  Consider the ages at which people can retire from the post office with full benefits (depends on how long they've been working there) pick whichever of those ages you like.  Subtract 75.  Marvel.

For those who don't like to do math, I'll spell it out for you: The US Postal Service is required, by law, to pay out retirement benefits to people who haven't been born yet.  Who may never be born.  Even of those who will have been born, some won't be for as much as 15 years.  I don't know if the Post Office has a minimum hiring age, but around here with a work permit 14 is the soonest you can go to work for anyone (legally at least.)  So they won't have their first day working at the Post Office for at least 29 years, and that assumes that they start at the Post Office as soon as they're legally allowed to start work and stay there until retirement.

It gets worse.  Obviously even the "Life begins 15 years before conception," people understand that you can't pay retirement benefits to someone who doesn't exist and isn't retired.  So the money has to be set aside, doing nothing.  It can't be used to reinvest in the Post Office on things that could make returns thus giving the Post Office more money to pay to actual retirees.

But sometimes mistakes are made or things change.  (A lot can change in 75 years.)  If the Post Office puts in what looks like too little money then they have to put in more to fill the gap.  If the Post Office puts in too much money, they are not allowed to take it back out.  For several of the years people were saying, "Look at how bad the Post Office is doing," the Post Office would have been operating at a profit if they'd just been allowed to take out the extra money in the fund.  Which is to say even paying retirement benefits to people who won't be born for as much as 15 years, they'd still have been profitable if they'd been able to truthfully say, "We accidentally over-funded the not-born-yet retirement benefit fund," and then take the over funding back out.

Part of this is also unrelated to the Post Office.  See the funds they're forced to set aside then get counted by other parts of the government as assets which allows them to under-report the deficit.  At the time a Republican was going to be in office for the next two years so making the deficit look smaller than it really was was politically useful.

But that is beside the point.  The point is this: If you want to know why the Post Office is having financial troubles it isn't the internet and it isn't Saturday delivery and it isn't whatever other bullshit reason people are giving this week.  It's not, for example, the need to keep actual offices in out of the way places going.  It is the fact that they're forced to pay retirement benefits 75 years in advance.

Do that to any company, see how they fare.

And I bring this up because I got an email saying:
The post office isn't broke -- it's being robbed.

Pretty much accurate.  Worth noting, by the way, that the current person in charge of the USPS was appointed by someone who wanted to eliminate it.  He wasn't put there to make it work.

Regardless, here's the link and unlike me, who wrote the above entirely from memory, they cite sources.  Honestly I haven't read what they wrote, just skimmed a bit.  I'm already well aware of what's going on regarding the Post Office so I don't need to be brought up to speed.  I read enough to know that they're aware of the actual problem, and I signed the petition.  God only knows if it'll do any good.  But you should sign it too, if you're in the USA or any country that trades mail with the USA.

So, again, here's the link.


As a side note, I wonder if campaigning as stopping government waste would be a way to get Republicans in Republican districts to tell their representatives to repeal the prefunding requirement.  Just say, "This government agency is required by law to pay retirement benefits for people who won't be born for another 15 years instead of using the money to do it's actual job, talk about government waste.  Call up your representative and tell them to repeal the law requiring them to do so," it seems like a message that would resonate with Republicans in the rank and file.

Unfortunately I lack the ability to do a massive advertising campaign aimed at the congressional districts controlled by Republicans.