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The U.S. can now set its own rates for mail from China and other countries (ecomcrew.com)
413 points by rjzzleep on June 29, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 330 comments

As a gag gift, I've bought a phone case from Aliexpress for a friend. The total, including shipping, was $0.46. The case itself did fit the phone and was technically usable.

I've bought a bunch of small trinkets from Aliexpress. For the most part, they're the same exact things you can buy off of Amazon for ~$5-15, except they take 2ish months to be delivered. For some things, it actually does make sense to just wait that long (e.g. a Google Home Mini wall mount) in exchange for the savings (>= 50% is normal).

The hidden cost is the enormous strain it puts on the environment...

Unless one of the cases is manufactured under considerably different environmental standards and locally that isn’t the case.

The higher price on Amazon is due to two factors - local reseller markup and expedited shipping.

Heck many AlizonExpress sellers will have multiple listings for the same product at different prices based on how fast they’ll ship.

So we can safely assume that both items ship from China.

So we can more or less safely assume that both are shipped from China.

Now when you wait 4-6 weeks for a delivery from China you are essentially waiting for them to fill a container, when you pay more for a shipping you pay for the extra shipping space wasted by expediting your shipping.

This is because of how international shipping economics work, international shipping is economical when it’s full to the brim since shipping companies have a flat tonnage tax.

This means that shipping companies are taxed based on the total tonnage capacity of their vessels not the actual amount or value of the goods they transfer.

Unless you source something locally in a manner that it’s actually environmentally more sounds that statement is false.

And don’t forget that even buying locally doesn’t guarantee any better environmental outcome, for example buying a 3D printed case form someone on Etsy is likely just if not more polluting than buying an injection molded case from China since the filament, resin and heck even the 3D printer itself came form China.

I used to run a small business when I was in college in Canada 2010-2012, selling sunglasses on Ebay, and later Amazon.

It was super low effort. Buy wholesale on Alibaba, tell the seller to send goods to packing, and silkscreen shop, and send by regular post to my apartment. Very often, fancy packaging was costing more than sunglasses themselves.

Even when I was buying crate loads of goods, I only got a customs bill only like 2 times out of 10 in 3 years. Customs bill was pretty much nothing, and they never contested the valuation, but the extra paperwork was very unpleasant at the time when I had to study.

Then you sell $1-$2-$3 sunglasses at $100+ prices. Just make decent websites for all made up brands you have, have good marketing fluff, and make sure to call them with some Italian/French sounding name.

You make at around 10-15 sells per month, but what else you want with that level of effort? Second to that, I was very unsure of my tax/legal status at large if that business were to become too big. Being kicked out of the country, with all my money in that degree wouldn't be fun.

When I was at high school I used to import all kinds of memory card adapters from dealextreme and sell them on immediately for 10x the price on ebay. My dad ended up helping me pay taxes on the money I made because it was actually getting really significant

>>Even when I was buying crate loads of goods, I only got a customs bill only like 2 times out of 10 in 3 years.

Tbf, you should have been paying for every crate, even if the customs agency didn't intercept it. It's up to you to make sure the duties are paid - if you ever got caught you would have been wholly responsible for not paying the duties even if you weren't asked to. But yeah, I know how it works in practice.

Did you ever check to see if they filtered UV correctly?

I'm sure, I was at least not picking polycarbonate glasses for reason they look, and feel too toyish, and too many of them would be scratched in transit/pop out of frames unless overmolded.

For the same reason, I did not risk buying plastic frames. They break/bend too easily.

I'm still amazed that Chinese factories managed to make optical grade glass, cut, and polished for glasses almost as cheap as molded polycarbonate.

It should be the exact opposite.

When buying fake sunglasses or unknown orgin, always buy polycarbonate plastic lenses as these filter out most UV light.

It's the fake glass lenses that are a culprit and can be very harmful to your eyes.

I have tested this with a UV light.

Do you have a source for that or can you elaborate?

Since the delivery time is so long, I’d expect the parcel gets shipped with multiple others.

The only items that get shipped are the ones that have been actually bought, which sounds efficient.

Of course there are negative aspects too and I wouldn’t know if the overall outcome is positive or negative, when compared to buying a product from Amazon.

Again, a link or more details would be very helpful.

With the enormous amount of stuff people order from AliExpress, it seems unreasonable that all of it gets shipped via excess capacity.

I mean that's pretty much the whole trick to it. It gets to the boat with the rest of the mail, and batched with all the other people are shipping to the US, and then delivered to your door with the rest of the mail.

I can't imagine that there's a significant environmental impact outside of what it already takes for normal imports and and your daily mail.

Of course it gets shipped with others, and if delivery takes weeks or months, it probably gets shipped fairly efficiently by sea. But it still gets shipped over a long distance. I'd rather see more local products and less intercontinental shipment except in cases where it's unavoidable.

Besides, a lot of products on AliExpress don't actually meet western safety standards. They're not allowed to be imported and sold here, but you can buy them abroad and ship them to a private customer. But they still won't meet our standards.

I don't really see a difference, as most of the consummer products are built in China and get shipped anyway...

I'm not denying the environmetal impact, but that's not from Ali Express, it's from us building everything there because it's cheaper.

Huge difference. Products that are intended to be sold overseas are made to comply with the recipient country's safety standards (although the Chinese are notorious for cheating around that in every way they can and quality control + liability is ultimately up to the importer). Random shit that you buy on alibaba, isn't.

There are several entire youtube channels dedicated to dismantling chinesium gadgets and showing how they'll burn your house down. Lack of reverse current protection, lack of overcurrent protection, trace spacing that's way too small and will arc under the right temp/humidity, mains side traces right next to each other, no grounding, ground shorted to neutral, under-rated caps and resistors that reach unsafely high temperatures, etc, etc.

There is an important difference between products built there and sold there, and products built there and sold here. The product have to obey safety and other standards of the country where they're sold. And those standards differ quite a lot between the EU and China. They can use banned chemicals, and fail many other requirements.

In the EU, products that conform to EU standards can be identified with a 'CE' logo[0], which means "Conformité Européenne". "Chinese Export" can have a deceptively similar logo[1] that does not guarantee such adherence at all, but still looks comforting to European customers of Chinese web shops. It's a blatant violation, but hard to stop, because it's a foreign sale shipped to private customers.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CE_marking

[1] https://siloscordoba.com/blog/corporate/china-export-is-not-...

There's no such thing as a Chinese Export or China Export mark, it's an urban myth (see your own link).

Whether or not it exists seems to be mostly a matter of interpretation. Is the incorrect mark just a misprint while Chinese products with the correct mark are just as likely to fail to meet EU standards? Either way, that cheap products from China regularly fail the standards does not seem to be disputed by anyone. And if those products are sold in the EU, it's fairly easy to address, but if they're sold in China and mailed to the EU, it's not so easy to enforce. The problem remains the same, whether or not you see it as intentional or not.

It's the difference between deliberate (creating a confusing mark to legalistically "bypass" CE regulations - this is the myth) and negligence (China not bothering to enforce the standards set by other countries or even its own quality and safety standards - this is well known).

Germany seems to care more than other EU countries about such things like CE. They don't have trouble turning away imports based just because it's shipped to private customers.

Just ask people trying to receive PinePhones in Germany.

You don't have a german manual? Bye bye, try again later.

Similarly the UL logo and ETL Intertek logo serve the same purpose in the US. If something doesn’t have a UL logo it’s probably not safe.

I think you're barking up the wrong tree.

There may be ways to be greener by manufacturing near consumers... but that doesn't have much to do with amazon vs alibaba. These products are manufactured in the same places.

Not sure what tree you think I'm barking up. I do think the issue of local production and less transportation is an important issue; not everything is just about Amazon and Alibaba. But even if you just focus on those, Amazon at least has to obey local standards for the country in which they sell. Products from Aliexpress only obey Chinese standards, which are very different. And sometimes they ship with misleading logos which could suggest to European customers that they obey EU rules when they don't.

> Amazon at least has to obey local standards for the country in which they sell.

In theory. In practice resellers are free to dropship whatever they want from AliExpress to Amazon and sell at a markup.

True. Amazon also clearly has a problem with counterfeit goods (as addressed on HN repeatedly in the past), and that's not sufficiently enforced. But at least it's possible to enforce. That's not to easy when the shop is outside your jurisdiction.

I'm still not seeing your point.

This is an article about postage. It's not about counterfeits or locally produced goods.

Counterfeits are generally not locally produced and mostly come from China via the subsidized slow boat. The counterfeit industry exists on Amazon because the potential for profit is so high and the risk is almost non-existent.

This article is not just about postage. It's about how cheap postage from China has subsidized Chinese webshops selling cheap crap to Europe and the US.

> Products from Aliexpress only obey Chinese standards,

Not necessarily... In cases something s not marketed for the domestic market, Chinese electrical (and many others) standards do not apply.

And it is not something given even if they were...

> delivery takes weeks or months, it probably gets shipped fairly efficiently by sea.

No, most of goes around as airmail. In fact, actual physical transport times are super low.

In fact, sea shipments can be faster than that. There are container lines shipping Shenzhen-Losangeles in just 7-10 days.

> But it still gets shipped over a long distance.

So do Amazon products.

> I'd rather see more local products

How is that related? I asked for sources that would confirm claims about worse environmental impact of Aliexpress vs Amazon.

Just in terms of packaging waste it is definitely lower. Even tiny things from Amazon often come to me in a shoebox sized carboard box, even if they could have fit in a padded envelope or maybe even just shipped in the retail box. Ali Express things I have ordered almost universally come in a padded plastic envelope. I think there must be strong incentives to pack small and light, so the maximum amount of stuff fits in the container, whereas with Amazon the highest priority is to get it on the truck ASAP.

Isn't it rather that someone else is taking the shipping cost?

There was a popular blog post awhile ago where a guy wrote a script to buy a random item for $0.99 everyday. It would automatically get sent to his house and so he was always getting surprise deliveries since the script would decide what to buy.

You might be remembering this: https://xkcd.com/576/

just checked taobao.com, the cheapest phone case was 5 RMB or $0.7 USD including shipping. so it is actually cheaper to buy the same stuff from the US and get it shipped half of the world.

If you want it, you can buy a $0.50 iPhone 5 case with free shipping from Aliexpress right now: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4001089727974.html

Alternatively, you could buy a $0.06 phone stand with free shipping: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4001172525823.html

Cheapest I saw on taobao just now was 3 RMB including shipping:


Opened the taobao android app, searched for 手机套, filtered by 包邮 (shipping included) and sorted by price.

In the case of phone cases, you can get Chinese domestic shipping costs as low as $0.2 if your daily volume is high enough. It's a special offer tho, since it's light weight and compact.

And yes, shipping companies can still make normal profit on these.

From this standpoint, your example isn't nearly the cheapest it can get. Sellers regularly offer entirely free ones in exchange for reviews.

After RadioShack collapsed and Fry's turned into a Cellphone store (note: RadioShack also pivoted towards Cellphones before it died), the only place I could buy a 2 pack of capacitors for a few cents + free shipping was on eBay or Aliexpress. If this "hole" is closed it makes me a little sad.

I used to buy costume jewelry for my kid (before deciding cheap metals on my kids skin is probably a really bad idea) from eBay and would search for jewelry listings ending in an hour and search for anything under a dollar and with free shipping. I would bid on them last second and try win. I have had a 5cent phone case sent to me and thought this is insane. It was like a game just to see if I could win because I was bidding pennies and shipping always free.

Yeah personally I wouldn't buy anything that'd be in constant contact with my body or would have non-battery-powered electricity flowing through it.

I think the other thing you get when buying from Amazon is an easier a return process and hopefully some level of QA.

Given Amazon’s flood of ALL-CAPS trash brands from rando dropshippers in recent years, plus fake reviews, is it realistic to expect QA from Amazon?

No, but the customer service is still unparalleled. I ordered a cable, and the one I got wasn't the one I ordered. I clicked three buttons, (link from the email to my order, return product, and chose "product not what was descrived" as the reason) and I had a refund as Amazon credit, without having to return the item instantly. If you're talking about the $/£5-10 phone case/misc cable market, ordering off amazon is significantly less hassle then the alternatives (going to a random "phone shop" on the high street, ordering from eBay, or ordering from AliExpress), and likely as error prone.

I have never had a problem getting partial to full refunds on Ali Express. Even if I never got a refund though, I think I would still come out ahead due to how much lower the prices are.

Break even, assuming you could never get a refund, would be if the failure rate and average discount were the same. My experience is that the discount is >60% and failure rate is <15%.

> I have never had a problem getting partial to full refunds on Ali Express

I've never really had an issue with online refunds anywhere. That doesn't mean Amazon's experience isn't superior. Amazon's policy of refund first, ask questions later (for stuff in the <£15 category at least) means that I don't really consider the other options.

If I have a choice between buying a USB to DC5v adapter from amazon for £3.99, with next day delivery, and I know that if it's not the right cable I'll get an instant refund, or from aliexpress where it's £1.99 [0] but I have to wait 30-50 days for it to arrive, plus 3 weeks for a refund if it doesn't work, I'm just going to buy it on amazon. I don't care if I don't come out ahead!

[0] https://www.aliexpress.com/item/33051428867.html?spm=a2g0o.p...

That's not good customer service. Good customer service is not wasting my time with any of that bullshit in the first place.

If only removing your account from Amazon was as hassle free.

In my experience, both Aliexpress and the sellers on Aliexpress never refuse a refund request.

The items I buy are exactly the same on both sites: down to the same stock photos.

You should look into getting a 3D printer. I’ve found that most of the time I can just easily print the random things I would normally buy on amazon (cases, organizers, etc). And if I can’t find a good design already online, I’ll try to make it myself. Really fun hobby.

It actually is not. If you consider taxes pay for the shipping ( and not subsidies from China).

It's ridiculous

The fractional cost of a single phone cover on a container ship crossing the pacific is... extremely low.

Large container ships hold 14,000 TEU (twenty-foot-equiv) containers, each of which has a volume of 33m^3.

Let's use an iPhone's size as a stand-in for the phone cover: it's 173 x 70 x 8mm.

Divide the first by the latter: (14000 * 33m^3) / (143mm * 71mm 8mm), and, as google will helpfully tell us (https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&sxsrf=ALe...) you can ship 5.6x10^9, or 5.6 billion of these on a single ship.

From some related information it seems shipping rates for a single container are around $1,000 for China->US. Plug that in and the costs are ... $0.002, or 1/5th of a cent: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&sxsrf=ALe...

I may be off by an order of magnitude somewhere. But it just feels intuitively obvious that most of the costs of any delivery are incurred during the 15 seconds or so the mailman spends in your driveway or trying to find the mailbox with your name.

No, that's about right - containerised freight is extremely cheap. I just shipped an ATV, about 1.5m3, 250kg, from China to Europe for about $180 - and $150 of that is port handling and freight forwarding fees, the actual shipping part was $32.

Just last week I checked ocean freight rates again for a project of mine. Depending on ports and incoterms, handling charges, port fess, etc on both ends can almost amount to the same sum as the shipping part.

Most of the cost comes from land based shipping which you conveniently ignored.

But that is also necessary when something is made in your own country.

You're paying the same amount of tax either way. If the shipping costs $1 from govt. money, then that gets split over the many millions of taxpayers. So while the system is bad, for you it's good - you're getting effectively free shipping funded 99.999% by everyone else.

What tax dollars are you talking about here? The USPS is only in the red because of congressionally mandated pension funding requirements. It’s a business otherwise. Not sure why everybody’s talking about tax dollars.


That said, allowing them to set rates will likely help the bottom line a great deal, but the USPS is a business.

The USPS gets ~$18 billion in taxpayer funding and subsidies annually. All while having a monopoly.


They are required by law to fund 75 years of their pension obligations. Because of this, they run in the red, not because the business model is completely flawed.

Further, rural routes are things that should continue but are cost prohibitive without subsidies. With those two considerations combined it seems like a pretty meager use of taxpayer dollars.

You’re not wrong. I think the concern can still be valid that the use of those taxes isn’t good, though. While some people get an alright deal out of a single shipment, the overall situation isn’t necessarily justified or beneficial.

I'm not American so I'm probably just used to other systems, but does a public service need to be profitable?

Think of it like a "cost centre" in a business, does the utility outweigh the price?

The trouble is that we are subsidizing the shipment of items from China. It’s sickening when I have to pay $5 to send something within the US, yet the same item would cost $.50 from China. You could buy something for $1 from dx.com- shipping included! Crazy.

So while I agree with you that we don’t necessarily need a profit motive at the usps, at the same time the taxpayers don’t need to subsidize cheap crap from China.

Not only that, but it creates an anti competitive environment where someone like me, who sells to US customers, subsidizes those shipments from other countries.

That's the real kicker in this whole thing.

I guess the taxpayers are also the people who buy stuff from China so by and large they're just subsidizing themselves?

Given how ubiquitous ordering stuff from China is these days I'm not really sure the first impression of this being some good deal is accurate.

In fact subsidizing transport to a degree might probably have a progressive effect because low wage earners are more likely to order cheaper foreign goods.

It's basically a reverse tarriff, placing a market barrier on your own industries for no good reason.

Both the seller and the buyer benefits from the subsidy, while only the taxpayer pays for it. So the net benefit is to the chinese seller and net loss is to the taxpayers, which only partly mitigated if they are buyers too.

FYI, the US Post Office is an independent agency with its own budget. It does not receive taxpayer money.

So really what was happening is that other people or companies sending mail or packages were subsidizing overseas mail and packages.

I would make the case that they do receive taxpayer money. They have a legal right and monopoly to show ads in your mailbox. Without that, they would not exist. Imagine if Facebook were legally allowed to drive by your house and play recordings of ads over a loudspeaker every morning. Facebook would pay the government for that privilege. The government is selling your attention daily (worth billions, if anyone company were to have the ability to charge for it the same way), and giving it to the post office for free.

The environment suffers though. Shipping it in bulk to the US and from there to the customer is more efficient and allows for returns to be reused, creating less waste.

I don't think individual Chinese are rafting your goods individually over the pond.

If people had to make an explicit choice between ($1 shipping cost and $2 taxes) vs ($2 shipping cost and $0 taxes) they'd choose the unsubsidised option.

"they're just subsidizing themselves" -> they are spending money that they wouldn't choose to spend if they had fine grained control over the taxes they paid.

For lots of things, though, that really isn't the clear cut choice.

You pay health insurance so you don't have to pay the full cost later on. And it could easily be that the shipping cost + taxes generally means that the system stays afloat. And besides, if you tax correctly, it wouldn't be the same rate for everyone (income taxes should be higher for those making more, for example) nor would it be more than the flat shipping costs so long as the tax money actually went to the postal service.

In both cases, are the employees getting paid fair wages?

Does the tax mean I'm not getting charged for receiving packages? Are there hidden costs to the lower amount?

> You pay health insurance so you don't have to pay the full cost later on.

When you buy health insurance you pay more than the expected value of the full cost, both as a result of the cost of providing the insurance and the over-consumption as a result of insurance making patients price insensitive.

The reason you buy insurance is in case your medical bills are more than average and you can't afford them. For the average person the insurance is a net loss but the cost savings of not having it aren't worth the risk.

> And it could easily be that the shipping cost + taxes generally means that the system stays afloat.

If the system is worth more than it costs then it will be able to charge prices that allow it to stay afloat. We generally don't need systems that cost more than they're worth.

> And besides, if you tax correctly, it wouldn't be the same rate for everyone (income taxes should be higher for those making more, for example) nor would it be more than the flat shipping costs so long as the tax money actually went to the postal service.

Everybody always wants somebody else to pay for it. But it's the people in the middle and not at the top who actually pay for stuff, because they're the only ones numerous enough to do it.

> In both cases, are the employees getting paid fair wages?

That sounds like a question for the employees and not the customers. Naturally if they're getting paid below market rates they should consider seeking other employment.

> Does the tax mean I'm not getting charged for receiving packages?

You can already get charged for receiving packages. It's called COD. Nobody really uses it because it's much more convenient to charge up front than have the carrier try to collect payment from the recipient.

I see your pount about insurance but would love if health insurance and medical costs were more transparent.

In some countries without mandatory health insurance, medical cost is a lot lower and simpler. If major medical emergency happens, then families usually need to take out a loan. But for regular medical issues, you save for it. This includes issues like childbirth which in America very few people can afford without insurance.

I imagine, having health or car insurances gives some sense of false security, which leads to poor lifestyle choices or driving fast, which in turn causes one to experience bad health or accidents, thus using their insurance. Which causes insurance rates to rise. And one is not directly negotiating with hospital or bodyshop, those prices rises too.

It isn't mandatory health insurance that makes it more expensive: I have taxpayer funded insurance, which basically makes it mandatory for most (some folks don't qualify if you are a certain category of immigrant, but you still have to have it). There is a private option if you want to pay extra.

... And the system is more efficient because of standardization and pooling money together.

The US system doesn't have much of any standardization, and in general has a lot more facilities than it might otherwise need - plus things like some of the government provided insurance not paying enough and not having the ability to act like public insurances. These all make it more expensive. Heck, even standardizing insurance coding would help.

It is cruel to expect folks to take out a loan for medical emergencies. In some places, you die if you can't pay. It isn't like health is completely under your control: Type I diabetics couldn't prevent it (for example). Many cancers can't be avoided. And so on.

Negotiating with medical facilities is a pipe dream. There are many cases where you simply don't have the choice (emergency) nor the mental space to do it (for example, do you know how to judge what facilities are better for a gall bladdar removal surgery? How about where to get cancer treatment? How does one judge any of that?)

Does care insurance cause you to drive fast? Seriously? Isn't that more cultural than whether or not you have insurance?

I think the point is that part of the reason the goods are cheaper foreign is because they can't be made here at all, when shipping is 5x more expensive than importing from China.

according to statista[1], the average weight of cross-border packages is about 1 lbs or so, so according to that table shipping from China would be about 1$ cheaper. As the article itself states

"You can see from the above anything under 4 ounces is actually cheaper to ship from China. From 4 ounces to 8 ounces the rates are pretty comparable. Once you start hitting about 2 lbs, the prices from shipping within the U.S. start to get comparatively cheaper and cheaper than shipping from within China."

I seriously doubt this was ever an existential in the sense of the shipping cost itself destroying a business. China is simply able to produce cheaper things because they have lower labour cost and so on, and that is actually good for American consumers. It's simply free trade.

If anything I see a much bigger threat in the ability of the US to raise the prices, because given the current administration it may be used as a protectionist tool.


> It's simply free trade.

How can it possibly be free trade if one side is subsidized and one side is not.

This is a good thing, I hope same thing will happen in Europe, if it haven't already. The law/agreement in europe is to help people send hand written letters across the globe, and to help people from poor regions send letters ro the more developed regions on earth.

This was the case back then, now, the same agreement is used so that you can send stuff worldwide without any fee. That is NOT free trade.


If you are concerned about maintaining access to the international post system for poor people, how is this change going to help?

Surely it does the opposite - someone living in the poorest country in world would have to pay rich-European country rates to access their postage system.

Btw. I strongly suspect that the international rules on charging for postage were chosen for simplicity of implementation and not out of a sense of altruism for people in poor countries.

How usual is it sending hand written letters in 2020? Even in poor countries, I believe people sending hand written letters across the world is very uncommon.

If you believe it's still neccessary to keep sending letters across the world a neccessity, well, then we could only allow thin letters that can not hold anything else than a written letter - no items, what so ever.

I didn't mention hand-written letters at all so I've no idea why you're asking that question.

Your original message seemed to express concern that the original purpose of the rules for international shipping was to support people in poorer countries?

If this cross-subsidisation is removed, then people in poorer countries will pay more and people in richer countries will pay less to send stuff to each other. That's simple arithmetic.

And I was wondering how someone could simultaneously support such a policy while expressing concern about access to international post in poorer countries.

Sure, you didn't mention hand-written letters, but hand-written letters is exactly what the agreement/law (in europe) was designed to take care of.[0] So I think you are missing my point.

It was definetly not designed to be abused by the world's biggest companies to be able to ship stuff for near zero cost world-wide. If you can't see how it's clearly being abused, I don't know what to say.

A trade union created in the late 1800's that made sense then, may need a change now. Although alot of damage is already made.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Postal_Union

It is not about being handwritten or not, in many situations physical letters have a different legal weight than other mediums.

I agree, I meant to write physical letters. And if it's of legal weight, they should be able to afford shipping.

The problem is not physical letters, it's the postage of goods across the world, being cheaper because of subsizidies.

> I seriously doubt this was ever an existential in the sense of the shipping cost itself destroying a business.

I've read many e-commerce blogs with US sellers lamenting that they can't compete with China on $5 items because shipping costs are 5X as much within US. Maybe not killing businesses, but definitely keeping many out of the market.

> China is simply able to produce cheaper things because they have lower labour cost and so on, and that is actually good for American consumers

Lower, but not nearly as low as it used to be. Minimum wage in China is almost 1/2 of US now.

There's real instances of shipping cost offsetting lower labor. Manhole covers are a somewhat famous example. They're still made in USA because shipping offsets increased labor and materials. Would it be the same for ecommerce? I'm not aware of any studies but to me, the increased cost and shipping time make it plausible

If you want cheaper products with lower shipment costs, why not subsidise them locally? Why pay to make buying abroad cheaper while making your local products more expensive?

If you're creative, you can have free local shipping too, or just pay $2-4 to get shipped pretty much anything. It's just sligtly more expensive than standard aliexpress shipping, which is $1.5 or so.

The major thing compared to local stuff is lack of VAT on cheap foregin goods. Noone locally can compete with that.

Also most of the stuff I buy on Aliexpress (electronic components, SBCs, ...) simply isn't available locally, or is simply bought there and resold locally (because the manufacturer's main shop is Aliexpress).

There were a truckload of articles on this published over the last several years, even during the Obama administration, on how this "international China shipping" being cheaper than "domestic shipping" destroyed small businesses and was also responsible for hundreds (likely thousands) of American deaths thanks to cheap fentayl shipments.

This was the most nonsensical self-destructive American policy that strangely never caught much mainstream media attention.

With the potency to weight ratio Fentanyl has, do you really think the shipping being slightly more expensive will make it cost prohibitive? "A kilogram of heroin is purchased for approximately $6,000 and sold for appropriately $80,000." [1] Paying a few more dollars for shipping, which would be the case, doesn't make a dent in profitability.

1. https://www.affirmhealth.com/blog/word-on-the-street-fentany...

I'm not sure if you read the article you linked. It clearly refers to easier smuggling. If it was possible to just "ship" heroin then those profit margins wouldn't exist. The heroin would be bought for $6k and sold for say $6.5k. The reason why it sells for that much is because a substantial portion of the margin is spent on smuggling.

I am truly disappointed at the downvotes and the complete lack of research done by down-voters. The answer to your question is "Yes" not because of cost prohibition - but because most fentayl imports are less than 700 grams - which get lost in the massive flood of UPS e-Packet shipments and thus near impossible to inspect. I beg you to carry out your own research before expressing such disbelief.

Please read this briefing by the US trade commission https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/executive_briefings/e...

"The illicit trade follows the standard e-commerce model of small-scale shipments and B2C and B2B distribution channels. The trade is SME-focused, with small-scale Chinese suppliers primarily exporting to individuals and small independent U.S. criminal networks.China was the source of 97 percent of inbound shipments of high-purity fentanyl during 2016 and 2017"

"Given the high purity of Chinese fentanyl, most illicit imports are less than 700 grams (1.5 lbs.) per shipment. "

> I am truly disappointed at at the downvotes and the complete lack of research done by down-voters. The answer to your question is "Yes" not because of cost prohibition - but because most fentayl imports are less than 700 grams - which get lost in the massive flood of UPS e-Packet shipments and thus near impossible to inspect.

So what? 100 grams would be bought, by the numbers above, for $600 and sold for $8,000. If shipping cost $200, no one would care. That would add $2,000 in shipping costs to the full kilogram, but, again, no one would care. It's just not significant.

Do you have an argument to advance that isn't ludicrous on its face?

I guess that if shipping cost $200, only very lucrative goods like fentanyl would be shipped. That would reduce that the total shipping volume to something that was possible for the border guards to inspect in order to find drugs.

It is not a matter of the shipping cost. Can you please state which statement do you find ludicrous ?

1. Chinese fentayl shipments do not need to have high weight due to purity. Mentioned explicitly in the trade commission report linked above.

2. Due to 1), it is convenient to leverage e-packet shipment as inspection of massive volume of e-packet shipments is near impossible.

3. Small-scale US businesses were adversely affected by e-packet rates https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/10/trump...

>> There were a truckload of articles [...] on how this "international China shipping" being cheaper than "domestic shipping" destroyed small businesses

> It is not a matter of the shipping cost.

Seems like your original point was centered on shipping costs destroying domestic businesses. In light of the downvotes it became mostly a matter of drug imports in small, cheap packages:

> most fentayl imports are less than 700 grams - which get lost in the massive flood of UPS e-Packet shipments and thus near impossible to inspect

Which is irrelevant, shipping costs (within reason) won't change this.

"Seems like your original point was centered on shipping costs"

I made both points right at the beginning, though the thread got focused around one of them.

1. e-packet shipping cost adversely affecting US businesses

2. e-packet being used to hide fentayl shipments thanks to massive volume and delivery convenience. (cheap and fast)

"Which is irrelevant, this will be the case regardless of the shipping costs, within reason."

I fail to understand this statement. How will reduction of e-packets - one of the major causes of the bloat of international packages not help in inspection ?

If you reduce the total number of e-packets by removing the subsidy, then it becomes far easier to inspect which packages have fentayl and which do not. EMS shipments apparently quadrupled after the e-packet scheme was introduced which adversely affected all inspection procedures as agencies could not cope with the volume.

Reduce the volume by removing the subsidy - the inspection agencies can then manage their job.

So we can agree the shipping isn't make it cost prohibitive. Your point about there being less hay making finding needles easier might be possible (although I don't think it matters, as with our southern border, a higher detection rate just means you need more chance to get the desired total smuggled). I would imagine there would just be more product shipped to Central and South America and then imported like everything else south of the border, cars, trucks, boats planes. "The flow of fentanyl to the United States in the near future will probably continue to be diversified" [1] Production in those places might also increase. Moral of my story is this change in shipping prices will have no long term effect on amount of fentanyl brought into the US; though, it might very well increase the involvement of SotB cartels. If there are buyers, these will be sellers.

[1] https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-03/DEA_GOV_DIR-...

Perhaps, but until those supply chains are established and proven to be effective, one should address the way 97% of all fentayl enters the US today - e-packet from China.

Just because opponents will likely evolve their tactics in the future should not prevent one from mitigating their extraordinarily successful tactic that is running in the present.

In FY 2012, USPS handled about 27 million ePackets from China. This increased to nearly 500 million ePackets by 2017. (Thanks to that disastrous subsidy agreement in 2011)

None of our inspection agencies could cope with this volume. Remove the discount-from-China subsidy, this will automatically reduce the volume of all e-packets and thus will ameliorate the load on inspection agencies.

The supply chains from Central and South America are already established and proven to be effective. What you seem to be ignoring is the demand part of supply and demand. If there is demand, there will be people importing drugs, increasing USPS pricing won't stop anything that from happening.

I think even if you reduced volume to 2012 levels its not going to make any practical difference. Like, 1 gram of pure fentanyl is on the order of 1000+ doses... You can profitably smurf it in anything.

If you achieved the same level of bulk processing it may not be $0.50, but it wouldn't be $5 either.

The Post Office works off Postage, not Tax dollars.

Congress is responsible for the rates. Politics and likely donor interests are why the rates are this way.

The rates are set because Republicans want to have the postal service die and be fully privatized, and thus make regulstions to sabatoge it on a regular basis.

> It’s sickening when I have to pay $5 to send something within the US, yet the same item would cost $.50 from China.

What's sickening about this? It's different quality of service. Your $5 package will be received in a few days. With $.50 shipping, your Chinese trinket will be delivered in a couple of months.

> So while I agree with you that we don’t necessarily need a profit motive at the usps, at the same time the taxpayers don’t need to subsidize cheap crap from China.

Too late for that. China is world's manufactory. Your stuff will be shipped from China one way or another.

Given that, subsidising direct shipping from China is the reasonable thing to do. Otherwise you will be paying a 5-10x markup to middlemen for the exact same item.

All the slow Chinese mail gets put on a boat, and taken to say a port in LA where it is offloaded and then inserted into the US mail system. If I bring a package to that same spot in LA where the packages enter the system, why can't I choose a shipping option that costs something less than 50 cents to anywhere in the US?

The system was illogical. Whether you want to say that US shipping is too expensive, or Chinese shipping to the US too inexpensive is unimportant.

> All the slow Chinese mail gets put on a boat, and taken to say a port in LA where it is offloaded and then inserted into the US mail system.

It's shipped by air. It is so slow because of sorting, customs, paperwork. The last mile postal shipment is actually quite fast in USA.

> why can't I choose a shipping option that costs something less than 50 cents to anywhere in the US?

Not an American, but I believe there's a 2006 bill that prevents USPS from selling services below the cost. Learned about it in a John Oliver's video [1], mentioned somewhere else in this thread. I'd guess that Chinese epackets are part of an international agreement, so they are exempt.

> The system was illogical.

It would be illogical if USPS had flexible costs.

But the USPS costs are more or less fixed. The mailman will go his round every day and will get his salary, even if he has little to deliver. So, you may as well have him deliver Chinese epackets, for whatever price the Chinese are willing to pay. And that's a good deal for the public. Otherwise the $1 trinket for China would be $6 (if Chinese had to pay full shipping), or $10 (if bought through a US-based reseller).

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IoL8g0W9gAQ

> It's different quality of service.

I think that’s only true until it arrives in the US though and USPS delivers the package to your door. Sure, total time is long, but the cost to USPS seems similar?

I'd bet this has to do with capacity, similar with network equipment. If you operate below capacity, it's hard to tell apart a high priority packet from a low priority one. You will start noticing delays in low priority packets only when you start saturating your network capacity.

Actually it has to do with how international shipping rates are arbitrarily set by committee every 4 years.

Here’s a planet money episode on the topic.


But it's the mail. It simply arrives. If I am in some other country, I pay postage in that country, then that country gives it to USPS and says "your turn now". Are they going to send it back? Surely there can be negotiations between the two countries about how to split that cost paid overseas, but at the end of the day the mail comes in, what are we going to do, not deliver?

If domestic mail is too expensive maybe let's address that.

Accept it in harbor, send a new notification that it can be fetched after paying a processing fee (which includes the price of three previous notification).

It's not like that isn't already done all over the place.

It's not like that would happen often. They'd quickly adapt and start charging more for sending, making it a non-issue most of the time

>The trouble is that we are subsidizing the shipment of items from China.

I don't see any problem if taxpayer is the one is paying cheaper price as the end result. It's not like Chinese are charging full rate and sending for dirt cheap and booking mega profits like that.

And if a student can order cheaper pen and paper from china or a mechanic can order cheaper nut bolts and screwdriver from china, what's the harm?

There is definitely a problem with subsidising the destruction of US small-scale businesses while favouring Chinese businesses and subsidising death of American citizens via fentayl.


"COMBATTING THE OPIOID CRISIS: EXPLOITING VULNERABILITIES IN INTERNATIONAL MAIL" https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Combatting%20the%...

US Senate Staff Report: "Fentanyl Flows from China" https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/Fentanyl%2...

>There is definitely a problem with subsidising the destruction of US small-scale businesses while favouring Chinese businesses and subsidising death of American citizens via fentayl.

You can find extreme examples in anything.

But let me tell you, sometime back I was unemployed. I bought machining tools from china and setup a good business, I could have never been able to afford local manufactured tools without accuring debt.

I paid a lot of money in taxes as my business grew, I bought better quality machines which were locally available from local suppliers because local suppliers ensures a maintenance package.

> subsidising death of American citizens via fentayl.

LOL, do you really think people buy chinese fentanyl 'cos the shipping per gram is a few cents cheaper than it would be if they had to pay higher shipping rents?

No, the problem is that the drugs disappear in the flood of cheap legal packages sent because it's so cheap to send small items.

It also contributes to the dismounting of American industry. When the poor people can't make any money to buy things made in USA because their jobs got exported to China, the next level of workers in USA will also lose their jobs and this will just continue for the next level and sooner or later hit the software world too.

I made a terrible mistake by my short, snarky answers without citations because I mistakenly assumed that most people were already aware of this. But it seems that I was utterly wrong. (also I did not downvote you)

Please read this report by the US trade commission. I can quote further citations if needed, but this one is a succinct briefing. https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/executive_briefings/e...

Please also read the United States Senate Sub-committee on Investigations Staff Report.


"The preferred method of the international online (fentayl) sellers is Express Mail Service (“EMS”), a global delivery service for documents and merchandise contained in letters and package."

Further reading in that report will show you how difficult it was to scan/inspect e-packet shipments due to immense volume.

It costs significantly less to send a lightweight package, via the USPS, from China to the U.S. than it does to send it within the U.S.

There's no reason American taxpayers and postal rate payers should be subsidizing shipping costs for Chinese Ebay/Amazon merchants at the expense of their American competitors.

American taxpayers are ok with subsidizing themselves buying cheap stuff from aliexpress pinduoduo and taobao maybe?

No they're not. The reason it's so cheap is that the UPU forced the U.S. to offer these rates. As a result, the U.S. threatened to leave the UPU so that the USPS could adjust the rates to be more equitable.

Once upon a time, the US agreed to these rates, because at the time they were reasonable. The idea was that developing countries would be held back if they had to pay the full cost of international mail. To help them, the relatively low volume of mail from developing countries would be subsidised a bit by the country it was mailed to.

But China isn't a developing country anymore; it's the #2 economy of the world. And the volume isn't small either. The rule should not apply to them, but it's hard to change.

Its slightly ridiculous that a company in the same city as me has to pay more to mail me a package than a company in China. Especially if the difference in shipping costs is subsidized by American taxpayers. I'm not crazy about tariffs, but I'm even less crazy about the idea of the USPS giving foreign companies such a huge advantage over domestic ones

It's also true in china. When I used to live in china, for same day delivery in Shanghai I had to book a cab for $40

Why is ridiculous or even remarkable? Pretty much every 3rd party service that an American-based company uses costs significantly more than an equivalent in China. And most of these costs are far more significant than the cost of postage (e.g. wages and salaries, rents, etc.) unless you're involved in a very low value-add business.

I find it ridiculous because it's not a comparison between the USPS and a similar service in China. Both companies are getting the same service in America, but the foreign companies get it much more cheaply. To the point that shipping something from China to the US, then from the US to me is cheaper than an American company shipping something directly to me. I'm guilty of buying plenty of $1-$2 dollar knicknacks with free epacket shipping on AliExpress. An American company can't even compete, because shipping alone is going to cost them more than the $1-$2 I paid for the Chinese item

>Both companies are getting the same service in America, but the foreign companies get it much more cheaply.

The fact that you have to explicitly point this out to derriz ...

Practically they don’t need to be profitable since we print our own currency. As Prof. Stephanie Kelton puts it “the governments red ink is our black ink.” But politically when US politicians want to attack a popular service, they use analogies to home economics to manufacture a crisis.

Worth noting also that the USPS in particular has been politically sabotaged (and they explain how to fix it): https://ips-dc.org/how-congress-manufactured-a-postal-crisis...

That does sound all economically right to me, why the downvotes?

Because she's one of the biggest proponents of Modern Monetary Theory and most economists view it as snake-oil. MMT claims to offers a fix/cure all our economic problems - everyone can have limitless money to spend as long as "sovereign" governments are the ones handing out the free money. And like snake-oil theories it collapses under the mildest of empirical tests.

I could go on, I guess (random google) an article like this sums it up for me: https://www.singlelunch.com/2018/10/01/bad-economics-shame-o...

More specifically, it draws a bogus conclusion from a true premise using an assumption that wouldn't be true anymore if their policies were enacted. The government can indeed print money and government debt is private savings - what it can't do is print resources. The USPS uses a whole bunch of sorting offices and equipment and vans and people's time which cannot just be magicked out of nowhere by the government. They all consume scarce resources that can't be used for anything else. The same is true of the USPS staff's healthcare and retirement - again, a whole bunch of resources. We're used to the fact that money represents a claim on real things at a rate that only slowly declines due to inflation because government fiscal policy is carefully managed to ensure that by not printing too much or too little money.

> Note that I’m not engaging the ideas of MMT on their own merit! They could be correct for all I know.

For all I know, there could be articles that do debunk MMT but this one doesn't.

Understandable, it’s a somewhat new way of thinking called “Modern Monetary Theory.” See Kelton’s “The Deficit Myth” for more info. Many interesting threads in the last year on this: https://www.google.com/search?q=modern+monetary+theory+site%...

In my opinion a public service doesn't need to be profitable at all, as long as it provides benefits in more important areas. I'm all for free education and free public transport and all that.

But in this case, the US (and EU) are subsidizing products that compete with local products, undercutting local products in price, in quality, and often not complying with safety standards, while also avoiding customs and sales taxes because the individual packages are too small to meet the limit.

You're basically supporting unfair competition, and paying to undermine your own quality standards and taxes. There's no benefit at all to the country that's paying for this.

Possibly, but this 'we will deliver other people's mail for free' is a concept that predates e-commerce as we understand it by 100 years.

Shipping is a major part of the equation so it's screwing up commerce.

They should dump the agreement for all but regular letter mail, it makes no sense otherwise.

It's rational if the price of shipping is more transparent and consistent with the actual, underlying cost.

For example, if this system did not exist, and China was subsidising their own shipping to the US, ironically, it would be illegal under WTO rules!

It's absurd and it should have ended long ago.

I still cannot believe that US companies have not been able to lobby to have this cut two decades ago.

The Post Office is funded by those that use it, not Tax Dollars.

The poor rate structure and widely publicized losses are due to artificial and quite excessive benefit pre pay mandates going out decades and a rate structure mandated by Congress for political reasons.

These changes were made during the Bush Administration.

1. The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) had bipartisan support and was sponsored by two Democrats. It was not a Bush conspiracy.

2. It included a 10 year prepayment period. This ended in 2016. It is 2020. Current USPS financial woes have nothing to do with that act. We are now in the follow-on period in which the USPS is intended to be amortizing its remaining unfunded liability over 40 years, to 2056. And this 40 year amortization period is exactly the same length of time as private-sector employers are given.

3. The USPS gets ~$18 billion in taxpayer funding/subsidies annually.


Note: I made no mention of conspiracy, nor it being partisan.

Fact is both parties receive significant financial incentives aimed at privatizing the Post Office. There is no benefit to the American people down that path.

That analysis is incomplete and inaccurate. 3 is particularly egregious. Compute it prior to the act, and the arguments evaporate.

Another fact: That bill was, and remains unnecessary, and is intended to undermine an otherwise exemplary service.

I won't respond to this again.

If you remove the need for external funding, you also remove the political baggage that comes along with it. Cost centers in businesses are bad to be in because there is always someone around trying to squeeze you instead of support you.

And unlike police who, when trying to be profitable are driven by perverse incentives to be corrupt, the post office doing more business is hard to see as a bad thing.

Also as many others have mentioned, the Chinese shipping rates were much lower than domestic rates, to the level that cheap products made in the US couldn’t be given away for free cheaper than things could be imported from china. $0 + shipping cost more than similar products sold at a profit and shipped from China.

> I'm not American so I'm probably just used to other systems, but does a public service need to be profitable?

A public service doesn't but the USPS is effectively run as a highly (and hostilely) regulated private monopoly, rather than a public service.

USPS is self funded, so it's important to at least not lose money.

The USPS loses billions every year.

It's an artificial deficit that Congress created.

The postal service is one of the few gov't agencies explicitly created in the Constitution; it's vital to national cohesion and commerce (especially rural areas).

You're right that the deficit is mostly artificial, but since this has come up a lot recently it's important to point out that the USPS as an entity is not enshrined in the constitution. The postal clause says:

> The Congress shall have Power...To establish Post Offices and post Roads

And that's it. The rest is left up to Congress to figure out; they could, if they chose, punt entirely and allow eg FedEx to run post offices. I think the USPS is vitally important, and we can make arguments for its role as a public good without being hyperbolic about it.

In FY 2019 the USPS lost $3.4 billion excluding all Congressionally mandated expenditures[1]. In 2018 they lost almost $2 billion, also excluding mandatory expenditures. The USPS's precarious financial situation is not artificial, it's the result of a long term decline in mail volume as correspondence increasingly shifts to electronic systems.

A nit: The postal service wasn't actually created in the Constitution. Congress is merely authorized to do so.

[1] https://about.usps.com/what/financials/10k-reports/fy2019.pd... Page 18, labeled "Controllable loss".

The artificial nature of the USPS's debt comes from the fact that congress passed an (unusual) requirement to make it prepay health & retirement benefits.

"The debt it carried jumped from $7 billion in 2008 to $10 billion in 2009. At the end of 2019, the GAO calculated that the Postal Service had $160.9 billion in debt, $119.3 billion of which came from retiree benefits" https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/15/postal-se...

I can't access the article, but don't postal employees get the same (unsustainable) retirement benefits as government employees? Of course the costs of those benefits are ballooning. The retirement age is far earlier than life expectancy; it's simple math. What alternative is proposed that would make it past a union sitting on 120B in benefit commitments already?

It is not necessarily that the retirement benefits are so extreme, it is that the Post Office singularly has a requirement to pre-fund its retirement fund massively in advance. No other agency is required to do so.


The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act has pretty much been at the core of why the USPS has had such extreme woes.


> I can't access the article, but don't postal employees get the same (unsustainable) retirement benefits as government employees?

Can you clarify? My understanding is that US Federal Employee retirement benefits (for new employees) have been comparable to private sector benefits since some point in the 80s, though existing employees at that time kept their old, more generous pension plan.

I think this might be what I'm talking about: https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/fers-information/

Unless you think the money to pay pensions will magically materialize out of thin air in the future, I don't see what's artificial about it. They have obligations to pay and recognize them.

>> The artificial nature of the USPS's debt comes from the fact that congress passed an (unusual) requirement to make it prepay health & retirement benefits.

> Unless you think the money to pay pensions will magically materialize out of thin air in the future, I don't see what's artificial about it. They have obligations to pay and recognize them.

My understanding is every other entity that has similar obligations is allowed to pay them as they go.

Stephen Colbert did a surprisingly interesting segment on USPS and this very question last month:


That's John Oliver.

Wow I'm an idiot.

*John Oliver

Same thing

I can't tell one liberal talking head from the other.

No. I don't think this is about that though.

This isn't about a policy that costs money, and creates benefits. It's not even really a policy. It's a side effect of quasi-diplomatic arrangements created decades ago... with no relationship between original goals and current outcomes.

Maybe it makes sense to subsidize a national package delivery. IF so, they can make a policy that does this, but this one isn't it.

It doesn't need to be profitable, but I'd question the idea that the postal service, in particular, should be subsidized. Even without being subsidized, it has negative externalities that likely aren't being appropriately priced.

In a world where the mail is the only reliable of communication with the rest of the country, subsidizing the mail was important to improve basic quality of life in more remote, and more poor, parts of the country. This survives to this day in 'media mail' rates, which are heavily subsidized to allow things like books and periodicals to reach rural people.

However, in a world where basically 100% of the business of the postal service is junk advertising and amazon packages, subsidizing it is just a payout to business, and I agree that the externalities now greatly outweigh any social benefit.

Subsidies to bootstrap into economies of scale can make sense. When you go from filling 0.1 jets or 0.1 containers or 0.1 ships to filling 10.1 jets etc, the costs come down and usage (and utility) go up. See Amazon, and I guess Uber if they ever make it work.

Shipping from China is well past that point, though, it's clearly providing perverse incentives and it's good that it's changing.

There’s no reason for USPS to make a loss on this either.

I can absolutely see a situation where products being shipped from China are given cheaper rates than products shipped domestically. In fact, I expect that’s how it should be. Simply because for products from China, USPS would be tying up with the Chinese postal service, and due to the massive volumes they have, they would be able to offer extremely low rates that they couldn’t offer anyone in the US besides Amazon and Walmart maybe.

However, those rates should be profitable rates for USPS.

I think the American conception here is that if something is not profitable then it suggests the possibility that there is an alternative that provides the same utility but more efficiently.

I think the conception here is that if you are subsidizing something in a way that is purely a wealth transfer to business, you should stop subsidizing it.

So my original comment was really just offering up the mindset behind why Americans are averse to services "costing" money.

While I think your comment may have been imbuing a value judgement on my original comment where I wasn't making any.. it does bring up a good point. Obviously this mindset doesn't hold true across the board for all services.

The one that immediately comes to mind is farming. I think more people are averse to the idea of farmers/farming operations going bankrupt. I think most people would be fine with a pure wealth transfer to that industry to help it get through a massive downturn. But why does that industry get a general pass?

My guess is that food production is perceived as more of a core need than mail/package delivery. Even when mail/package delivery is an important part of a modern economy.

No it does not. An easy example to see is public medicine that treats poor people. You can't squeeze blood from a stone, but a healthy population is overall happier and able to do things. However, it doesn't make money directly for anyone. Since the 1970s, the popular ideology of the ruling class is that government has to work like a buisness, and is a facet of "neoliberalism" -- the idea that markets are the best tool for every situation despite the numerous problems with them.

In the US, the idea is to disdain public services unless they can be used to socialize a cost of doing business. The USPS has been allowed to function because it made shipping cheaper, which is the lifeblood of business. However, other political calculations are coming to the fore (such as international competition) so they are thinking of kneecapping cheap rates to China.

Besides losing money, the biggest thing that bothers me about USPS is the sheer volume of waste they deliver to my mailbox every month. That is a lot of diesel and gasoline burnt, not to mention raw materials to create the paper that it's printed on. We could make a massive dent in greenhouse emissions by charging actual prices.

You do realize the Post Office is entirely funded by Postage?

The "loss" is artificial, imposed by the Bush administration, which required the Post Office to prepay benefits so far in advance, that at the time of the decision, there were people not even born yet, who would go to work for the Post Office having bennies paid for now.

Frankly, the Post Office could meet that burden if it were not also for deep rate cuts that essentially force the Post Office to deliver for big publishing at a loss.

Yes, that volume is significant, and Congress is responsible for it, and the artificially low costs for it today.

The Post Office is in the Constitution and it must be run by the Federal Government.

Many in said government want to further privatize the Post Office which in every other way has given the nation exemplary performance, at respectable rates, while serving everyone equally.

I am always saddened, and a little bit disturbed, to see the hobbling and abuse directed toward a clear example of a public service delivering a net good so well.

Prior to that mess, the Post Office made regular and significant contributions to the treasury, funds to be part of the General Budget.

It is a shame to see leadership priorities and politics cause so much grief.

> it must be run by the Federal Government

That's a little broad. Oversight would be sufficient.

And I strongly disagree.

The Post Office is fundemental to our society.

It needs to be treated as such.

These ongoing games being played by Congress are expensive and should bot be tolerated by Americans who should demand a remedy so the otherwise exemplary service can continue as it has since the beginning.

There literally is no benefit to a private service being primary. State laws, etc... Federal govt is entirely appropriate here.

It would very much not be, oversight is a codeword for doing nothing when the oversight is as defunded and weak as ours.

"it must be run" is not in the US constitution. That's the point I was disputng. The OPs comment is just as valid, and stronger, without this small hyperbolic statement.

Your comment about what oversight means, is separate and also not legal or factual. It's partisan comment that adds nothing.

Read it again. "Create" does not mean purchase from someone else.

It means Congress needs to do it.

"Shall" has specific meaning too. "Shall" is not optional. It means "must" and or "will"

And that is the basis for my comment.

That is not what the text says.

And don't expect the postal services in the rest of the world to compare, the USPS is consistently ranked very highly in multiple metrics (speed, accuracy of delivery, cost, etc.) - not to mention we don't really have to worry about paying VAT/customs on most international orders.

Most definitely not. It acts in a very privileged bubble that definitely costs taxpayers.


I wouldn't place too much stock in that Fortune analysis (in fairness, it's apparently just a summary of a larger work). It looks pretty slanted in some ways that have become almost stereotypical.

An analysis that talks about "the subsidies and legal monopolies that Congress bestows upon the post office" without talking about their unique costs - being required to deliver first class mail just about everywhere, at prices mandated by Congress that represent a loss in many geographic areas - is incomplete.

Trump claims he's a self-made billionaire in the same way the post-office claims they're self-funded. If all of your expenses are paid for, and you're just reaping profit, you are far from self-funded.

The Post Office returned a nice profit to the treasury prior to Congress hobbling it during the Bush Administration.

There is nothing wrong with the otherwise exemplary Post Office, other than too many in both government and private industry don't like it and want it privatized.

They want that as an opportunity, not any meaningful benefit to the American people.

Screw actual prices! Charge more for bad things.

If there are extra taxes on tobacco and alcohol, there can damn sure be extra taxes on junk mail. Let's start at 5000% and adjust from there.

Or, put some sort of escrow/credit/thing in the opt-out mechanism. Where the sender has to swear on a stack of dollars that I actually want this. And if I do actually want this, cool, I keep receiving it, they keep their money. But if I opt out, then the sender forfeits their bet, and next time it's more expensive for them. This would incentivize senders to make their mailings carefully chosen or highly valuable (think bribes to the recipient), or both.

Really, what I want is a postal equivalent of that "button that shocks the shit out of someone on the internet". I would just lean a brick on the button until the junkmailers have smoke coming out their ears.

> there can damn sure be extra taxes on junk mail.

I'd imagine this would actually be quite difficult on first amendment grounds if you start filtering by sender / message contents and would sweep in things like paychecks if you don't.

I agree. I'd also say though that it might hasten digital adoption for some things - if a company had to pay extra to send a paycheck, they'd make you sign up for direct deposit. The lasting effect might be that those who are underbanked might be "forced" into digital bank accounts.

That is, until they come to tax email.

Out of interest, are they addressed?

Here in Finland you can opt out of unaddressed bulk mail by adding a "no ads" note on your mailbox/mailslot. 99%+ of bulk mail is unaddressed here (addressed mail would be more expensive and senders would need address databases etc.).

Actually, no... The post office is not allowed to stop mail addressed to 'occupant'. That's all I get, stupid supermarket flyers that require me to go check the mail simply to ignore them. I ended up paying for a PO box, and now only have to check it once every 3-4 months.

I think that "occupant" still counts as addressed if it also has a street address etc.. By unaddressed I mean that there is no address at all, they are just delivered to every mailbox in a specific area (except for "no ads" boxes).

No address? That doesn't happen - is it still the post office delivering unmarked mail? That would be illegal here since only the USPS can legally use mailboxes.

Yes, the postal service here delivers unaddressed items - the customer (sender) simply specifies the destination area and the item gets delivered to everyone (except no-ads boxes): https://www.posti.fi/en/for-businesses/data-and-marketing/ma...

Though there are also other companies delivering both addressed and unaddressed items (the state-owned postal service has no legal monopoly).

Yes, the USPS offers a service for it:


With this service the USPS is adding addresses from its database based on the area(s) the customer selects. It's not mail with no address showing up in people's mailboxes.

EDDM is not addressed, I get it in my mailbox every week and it absolutely is not addressed -- read further down the page I linked:

> Mailpieces are simply addressed to "Postal Customer" and your mail will be delivered to every address on your selected routes.

The area the customer selects are carrier routes. When you select a route, the carrier is given a stack of your fliers and they simply hand one out to each address.

In many European countries (all that I'm aware of), anyone can use a mailbox. You can deliver mail personally, there sometimes are local mail delivery services and they're used for advertising. In the end that makes it easier to avoid Spam as you can opt out of anything not sent to you directly.

I mean, sure, it’s wasteful, and I’d love for the post office to go electric. In comparison to all the waste that goes on to support every other aspect of my American way of life, however, it is absolutely microscopic. I’d rather we direct our collective outrage towards banning all new gasoline vehicles and subsidizing the rapid electrification of our infrastructure.

The postal service makes a large fraction of its revenue from those advertisements. They are absolutely charged actual prices.

No they aren’t. There is highly discounted “bulk mail rates” that are far cheaper than what sending a single letter costs.

Actual prices for bulk mail, that is. It costs a lot less to deliver the same piece of mail into 1000 adjacent mailboxes than it does to send 1000 letters to different addresses around the country.

Bulk mail is on the order of half the retail price of postage. So it is still a big part of their revenue. And you can get the commercial discount rate by printing your own postage at home for one off packages. If you are mailing 100+ things a month, presorting them etc, you can pay bulk rates too

As others have noted, the fact that bulk mail rates are lower per piece does not mean the postal service isn't making money or that the price is less than the marginal cost. Junk mail is a cash cow for USPS, and it couldn't survive without it unless it raised prices on normal mail.

I always thought bulk mail made more money than first class just by sheer volume of how much bulk mail is sent but color me surprised that in FY2019 marketing mail made up a significantly smaller dollar amount than first class mail.

First class mail just barely edges out shipping packages here.

For anyone who wants to check it out: https://about.usps.com/what/financials/annual-reports/fy2019...

That's because they are presorted.

Those discounted rates are still profitable. The margin is small, and they make it up in volume. There’s an economy of scale to be had when every single person on the route gets the same bundle of local grocery ads, whereas if I send a first class letter, that has to actually be sorted and delivered to a specific address, potentially across the country.

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