Category Archives: Business

Instead Of Trying To Save The Post Office, Let’s Try Freedom Instead

It’s been rumored for more than a year now, but the U.S. Postal Service is taking the first steps toward eliminating Saturday mail delivery:

NEW YORK ( — Saturday mail could be one step closer to cancellation when the United States Postal Service submits an official proposal to a government regulatory board on Tuesday to eliminate 6-day delivery.

A new 5-day delivery schedule could save the cash-strapped Post Office $3 billion annually, the agency said. Earlier this month, USPS said it plans to incur about $238 billion in losses in the next 10 years if it doesn’t revamp its outdated business model.

“Every day, every month, every year this gets delayed, we end up further in the hole,” said USPS Deputy Postmaster Patrick Donahoe at a Monday briefing in New York.

Donahoe said a service cut would result in the loss of about 40,000 full-time jobs. About 600,000 workers currently work for the Post Office.

The Post Office hopes to drop Saturday mail in its next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. But first, it has to jump through a series of regulatory hoops that could take much longer.

Although it’s an independent government agency and does not receive taxpayer dollars, USPS is overseen by the Postal Regulatory Commission, a separate government agency with five commissioners appointed by the president.

Ruth Goldway, chairwoman of the commission, said that once the board receives the proposal, it will open the issue to public comments and hold hearings throughout the country.

This, of course, is part of the USPS’s problem. If it were a real business, with competitors, it wouldn’t need to seek government permission to engage in cost cutting moves like this.

The Post Office has already set up a website explaining why the move to five day delivery is necessary, and a new poll shows that most Americans support eliminating Saturday delivery:

A majority of Americans support ending Saturday mail deliveries to help the U.S. Postal Service solve its financial problems, but most oppose shuttering local branches, according to a new Washington Post poll.

The public support for moving to five-day deliveries may bolster a new proposal to end six-day deliveries to help the mail agency trim hundreds of billions of dollars in losses by 2020.

Cutting Saturday mail deliveries would save $3.3 billion in its first year and about $5.1 billion annually by 2020, Postmaster General John E. Potter said Monday. But the changes would also mean cutting the equivalent of 40,000 full- and part-time jobs through layoffs and attrition, Potter said as he prepared to formally submit his proposals to postal regulators on Tuesday.

Under the plan letter carriers would stop delivering mail to American homes and businesses and would not pick up mail from blue collection boxes on Saturdays. Post offices would stay open on Saturdays and mail would be delivered to post office boxes. Mail accepted at post offices on Saturday would be processed on Monday. Express mail and remittance mail services also would continue seven days a week.

Potter’s proposal has the support of 71 percent of Americans, with most Democrats, Republicans and independents in favor of the idea, according to the poll.

It sounds like a good idea, but over at Cato@Liberty, Ted DeHaven has an even better one:

Here’s a better idea: give Americans the freedom to choose the mail services they want by repealing the USPS monopoly. That way consumers and businesses could choose to provide and use mail services zero days a week or seven days a week.

Online movie rental services like Netflix offer a small example. A lot of folks time their Netflix rentals so that they have movies for Saturday night. Eliminating Saturday delivery will necessarily degrade the quality of online movie rental services that people are paying for. With competition, Netflix could offer Saturday (or even Sunday) delivery through a private alternative. Perhaps there would be a surcharge, but at least consumers would be allowed to make that choice.


I find it more impressive that I can go into a grocery store almost anywhere in the country and be met with an incalculable number of choices. Take Coke products for instance. I recently made a list of the various Coke products available to me at a local grocery store. The following is just a sample: regular Coke, Diet Coke, Caffeine-Free Coke, Diet Caffeine-free Coke, Coke Zero, Coke with Splenda, Coke with Lime, Coke with Lemon, and Diet Coke Plus. Don’t like Coke? There’s a similar array of Pepsi products. Don’t like either? The grocery stores also offer pricier micro-brands with all sorts of unique flavors.

These choices reflect the awesome power of the market, which provides nearly all the goods and services people want without any direction from officials in Washington. It would interesting to see what sorts of innovations and products private mail deliverers would come up with if the government’s mail monopoly didn’t exist. Instead, Americans are stuck with a government operation whose floundering business model will require it to raise prices while simultaneously reducing its services. So much for freedom of choice.

Eliminating Saturday delivery is likely to help the USPS achieve fiscal solvency, but it will only be temporary. The forces of technology that are making much of the mail obsolete will continue to work in ways that we can’t begin to anticipate and, some day not to long from now, we’ll be reading they want to cut back to a four day a week schedule to “save money.”

Instead of going through all that, let’s do what we should have done a long time ago — privatize the mail.

Is The Free Market Democratic?

In my post on whether America is ungovernable, one comment from CJS stuck out. It illustrates what I think is a common misconception of the average consumer, who sees a Starbucks on every corner, chooses between Microsoft and Apple for their operating system, and chooses whether to shop at the Super Wal-Mart or Costco each weekend.

A free market seems to have its own form of democratic majority rule. It may be a majority of money, but your small sum may be as ineffective at changing the actions of a business as it is at changing the actions of a government.

This view looks at the free market as a lowest-common-denominator, winner-take-all system, when it is the exact opposite. When it comes down to it, any need will be met if the conditions are right.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an engineer, and I work in the electronics industry. I’ve worked at big companies, I’ve worked at small companies, and most recently I worked [and continue to work] for a small company that was acquired by a much larger company. In my role (customer-facing), I’ve seen the ins and outs of business at all levels.

One thing that you see about many small companies is that they work hard to define a niche that they can fill and compete in. At the same time, larger companies tend to use their size, economies of scale, and greater resources to find very large market segments where their advantages allow them to overwhelm their smaller competitors.

I think of that small niche company as a military special forces unit. They’re the SEAL unit. They can deploy quickly, they can accomplish jobs that nobody else can get done, and what they do well, they do better than anyone. But they have very limited capacities. You’re not going to ask them to project force across an entire theatre of battle. The large company, however, is a carrier battle group. When they decide where they’re going, you join them or you get out of the way. They have the power to change the game. But they’re not as nimble. They can’t go in 15 different directions at once. They have enormous power, but they must make strategy in broad strokes, not in fine lines. The SEAL unit won’t defeat a carrier battle group in open combat, yet nobody in their right mind will claim that they’re not a formidable fighting force to accomplish the right-sized objective.

To push it back to the original point, if you have a need and a budget, you have two options. If the big company has something that fits your need, you’re in luck. And as CJS says, if the big company doesn’t have something that fits your need, you’re probably not going to get them to change their mind without a compelling story. But it doesn’t end there. There are entire industries devoted to picking up “the scraps” not serviced by the big companies. They might be a bit more expensive, but they’re there.

Leaving electronics, this is a common refrain all through the business world. If business were democratic, like our government, all restaurants would be McDonald’s, all beer would be Budweiser, all cars would be GM, and all computers would run Windows and use Internet Explorer. In democracy, everyone votes on what everyone else will have access to.

But the free market isn’t democratic. There is no single entity from which you are voting to have your needs met. You have competing entities trying to earn your custom. If I want something cheap, known, and tasty, I’ll stop at McDonald’s. But McDonald’s doesn’t make a burger like St. John’s does. I may drink Miller Lite out of nostalgia for my college days, but The Bruery is a bit more my speed. I love my Ford truck, but I like the fact that I could buy (at varying prices) all sorts of small-production automobiles — and someday hope to buy or build a Shelby Cobra. And while I use Windows for most of my computing, I browse with [free] Firefox and do quite a bit with [also free] ubuntu Linux — not to mention all the options out there that I’ve encountered in business (QNX, VxWorks, Solaris, etc etc).

How powerful is the free market? Well, in a free market, even if what you want is illegal someone will supply it to you. Whether it’s drugs, or sex, or just a bacon-wrapped hot dog, the market will supply what is in demand.

Democracy is a method to work together to make joint decisions. The free market is a place to trade value you’ve created (often money, the proxy for such value) for value others have created. In both, a lot of people choose the same thing. The difference is that in a market, people only choose for themselves. In a democratic government, people choose for themselves, their neighbors, and a whole host of people they’ve never even met. In a market, choosing differently than the majority limits options somewhat, but you can still get your needs met. In a democracy, choosing differently than the majority means that you get what the majority wants you to have.

An Aristocracy of Talent, and the Triumph of Markets

This is possibly the single best business document I have ever read; and I mean that with no hyperbole. It is also the single most libertarian document I have ever seen applied to a large corporate environment.

You HAVE TO read this.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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