I believe the main stated reason has been that the USPS loses money and they want to make it break even or profitable. Assuming that's the reason (and not election interference), why should such an infrastructure be breakeven or profitable? And why now, during a pandemic?
There are plenty of government services that aren't even close to breakeven. I imagine USPS actually might be one of the most self-sustaining federal departments. Why should this particular one be profitable? Why should this one be privatized, out of all of them?
The USPS has been one of the most stable, reliable, and predictable forces in my life. Their informal creed speaks volumes to me: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
I'm open to hearing arguments for why the USPS should be profitable (or privatized) and why now is a good time. I'm finding a very hard time imagining why.
The USPS also labors under the Republican-inflicted 2006 decree to prefund their pension obligations:
I do understand it's part of the whole "government small enough you can drown it in a bathtub" philosophy but it seems like a really silly service to go after. It provides clear societal benefits - has an insanely high quality of service (just look at CanadaPost and offerings in Europe) extremely low cost for use and is integral to a lot of social services (taxes, voting, census etc...) there are much bigger government boogie men to go after than USPS.
Unionized government employees also typically lean Democratic, too.
A government investigation concluded that the United States Postal Service "improperly coordinated" with a postal workers union that supported Hillary Clinton's campaign.
And, honestly, there are "politicalish" scandals like this pretty frequently - I don't know if you recall the uproar about the IRS targeting conservative groups a few years back.
1. Which was, for clarity, disproven after the fact https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IRS_targeting_controversy
I don't think this is entirely about election fraud, it just happens to be an easy target for the people that have already been trying to gut the USPS.
I see it in the same vein as them trying to gut NASA. They both have such small budgets in the grand scheme that it just makes absolutely no sense.
This is why doesn’t make sense to compare nasa and military budgets . Decision makers do not see all money as equal.
Even if there was no hidden agenda,cutting some spends are far easier than others even if it made logical sense , the lobbying power of the military budgets has is lot more than that of say NASA or USPS.
It is not just government it is true for corporates and non profits as well , Mozilla cuts servo over say pocket for similar reasons ,
In looking at the HN guidelines, I think the closest point related to this would be:
>Please don't use Hacker News for political or ideological battle. That destroys the curiosity this site exists for.
I hope HN can be a place where we discuss political and ideological perspectives without engaging in battle, and leveraging curiosity to bring us closer together.
I think the challenge is that most of the examples of political conversation we see is more political debate and less political dialogue—competition vs cooperation.
So far, I've been learning in this comments section and am grateful for those who are contributing :-)
> "Assuming that's the reason (and not election interference),
Not being allowed to explore the possibility of bad faith omits a crucial aspect of the topic. The result is a Potemkin Village imitation of intellectual exchange.
There are important reasons to "assume good faith" per the HN Guidelines (and to forbid accusations of bad faith), but that means certain topics just cannot be reasonably examined.
I'm not saying that conversation about election interference shouldn't happen, I guess I'm trying to test the strength and legitimacy of one stated claim, that of privatization, before maybe moving to others.
I also think that even when discussing voter suppression, gutting the institution from the inside as that's easier than legislating it out, or even trying to capitalize on the sale of public assets, one can assume that people want those behaviors not of bad faith, but because they believe they will help the most people, or at least their people.
I'd like to think that this conversation on HN hasn't been that way—at times I felt lost in the weeds and yet I feel pretty confident in how I see it now.
That there are two main questions:
1) Should the USPS be significantly changed (e.g., privatized, more efficient, restructured, etc.)?
2) Should the USPS be significantly changed now?
After these comments, I'm much more concerned with the second question, because I can imagine there will be a lot of people who want it drastically changed but still can't explain why now is the time to do it, as I haven't seen many arguments here that convince me that the change is urgent and unrelated to the election.
We cannot have a good faith debate about changing the USPS right now — the only sane response is to resist this attempt to sabotage our electoral machinery with all our strength. Engaging in farcical "debate" on the subject lends legitimacy to the sabotage and contributes to the harm.
(But you can't say stuff like that on Hacker News. The forum is fragile; it can't hold such conversations without fracturing.)
I have many friends and family who I'm quite certain see actions by the administration as either innocuous or exciting—to privatize—or righteous and brave—to take on the "fraud that will be perpetuated through mail-in voting." The people who believe the latter won't be convinced through much debate, but the people in the former may, because they may believe strongly that it should be privatized and yet disagree that it should happen now.
I can't speak for others, but I learned a lot in this short, 1-2 day dialogue. I want to learn how to have conversations with people who disagree with me to try to bring us closer to resolution.
Oddly enough, I took a hostage negotiation training last year and want to strive to get better at resolving conflict as they do. That being said, asking a question like you posed at the beginning could confuse the guy and disarm him a bit, setting him up for further conversation and maybe resolving the conflict.
In conclusion, I deeply appreciated this thread and what you contributed to it as well, because I feel more prepared for the conversations I'll inevitably have around this.
And I think HN seems to have been handling it well, but I still kinda feel like an outsider here, so I don't know if I'm playing by the rules lol.
Because Congress hasn’t approved postage increases, so the post office doesn’t have the money it would take to provide the service Congress wants it to. At the same time, Congress hasn’t approved closing offices, so the post office can’t scale back to provide the service it can actually afford.
> I believe the main stated reason has been that the USPS loses money and they want to make it break even or profitable. Assuming that's the reason (and not election interference), why should such an infrastructure be breakeven or profitable?
It’s not the postmaster general’s decision. Congress set up the requirement that the post office be self funded when it limited how much it will subsidize the post office.
I can imagine a world where the post office is self funded, and I can imagine a world where the post office is heavily subsidized. I don’t think the world we live in — where the post office has to be self funded while literally requiring an act of Congress to raise prices or close offices — can actually work.
The question still gets me is "why now?" Why privatize or change the USPS now, when it could very well jeopardize, or at the minimum, give people the impression that it will jeopardize the election?
In other words, is the <$10B in annual loss more important than the integrity of the election?
The post office turned into the USPS (and the postmaster general removed from the line of presidential succession) in 1970 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postal_Reorganization_Act ). Ever since that time, people have been arguing whether it should be privatized or return to what it was before 1970.
The postmaster general just took office in June.
> In other words, is the <$10B in annual loss more important than the integrity of the election?
That’s a question for Congress. If the post office’s bank account is empty, I don’t believe it can get a loan, sell bonds, or borrow money in any other way. It’s not truly independent.
Right now, Congress isn’t ready to allow a postage increase, allow offices to close, or to give the $10B or so to the post office to continue operating as usual. I suspect that could change pretty quickly if voters complain loud enough.
> If the post office’s bank account is empty, I don’t believe it can get a loan, sell bonds, or borrow money in any other way.
Is it close to being empty? I guess I just assumed there was at least a few year runway, enough to get through the pandemic and election, but maybe there's not.
When so many other things are being bailed out by stimulus packages, I just find it odd that the USPS wouldn't be. Again, the urgency confuses me.
Thanks for the back and forth :-)
And stopped using tax dollars in the mid 80s
Or the remote islands I don’t see how Ups or Fedex will service it at the cost USPS currently does
Playing the devils advocate, it could be a bone to throw to the small government crowd and the "why now" is because it's the middle of an election and they want to drum up support for their campaign.
However, I typically receive five or six packages per week. Two weeks ago I suddenly started having delays and some packages are taking a week longer to show up than I am used to. It was like a switch being flipped. Nothing like this happened even at the height of the lockdown. I also sent in a ballot application which is now a week late compared to when I sent it in last year. That's really concerning with how many people will be voting by mail.
I'm really scared for what is going to happen in November. Even if he loses by huge margins, Trump has set himself up to scream "rigged election" and have at least part of his base believe him. I'm not sure I can do anything other than wait around and worry, but if he loses there really will be a chunk of Americans that have convinced themselves that the new president wasn't elected democratically. That's really messed up and I don't think we've had an administration that has so undermined trust in our democratic process like that. Even when they were on the losing side, all significant politicians in my recent memory have at least shown respect for the process.
Wow. Imagine the service not hiccuping much at all during the initial lockdown and confusion around the country at the start of the pandemic and now all of a sudden losing service.
I guess I'm trying to get at that bone and small gov't crowd and ask if this is really the fight to fight right now, if decreasing the size of the USPS is the most urgent fight that we should have as Americans. Because I do believe there are many people who want it to be private, but I want people who are supporting it to say why they believe it's urgent that this specific thing happens now, amidst all other challenges we currently face.
If voting by mail enfranchises those who can't get to the polls easily on election day, does it not make sense (to those who are not favorable to that electorate) to break down the system that enables that?
Edit: Assuming positive intent (which should be done!) only works for so long.
But I want to pull back and try not to assume ill intent, because I've seen how it just squashes conversation and dialogue. I want to learn what else is going on, if there is something else there.
edit: removed "don't"
Sounds good to me—how shall we exchange that?
> While President Trump has long railed against mail-in voting, falsely claiming it leads to rampant fraud, he appeared to confirm Thursday morning that he opposes Democrats' proposed boost in funding for the U.S. Postal Service because he wants to make it harder to expand voting by mail.
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pkyv4k/internal-usps-docu... (Vice: Internal USPS Documents Outline Plans to Hobble Mail Sorting)
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/08/post-office-vot... (Mother Jones: Michigan’s Postal Workers Say the Fix is In)
The CATO Institute says "The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the Consumer Postal Council’s 26‐ country 'Index of Postal Freedom.'", but they only looked at 26 countries, and even then, I'm not sure what that index looks at. I found a report from 2012 but it's long and I'm not gonna dig into it now.
Do you have examples of which countries have and what led to the change?
If that's true and it's not costing the federal government any money, I'm struggling more to see the reason to privatize.
PS...thank you for finding that link!
I think it's also important to take stock in just how well USPS works - if you compare it to CanadaPost the differences are astonishing, USPS has managed to keep the unions happy while also keeping costs relatively low - I'm sure a lot of passionate people poured their lives into threading the needle on how to keep everything running smoothly, it's quite the success case.
They’ve done so well after privatization, they now operate globally and are the world’s largest courier.
The day that UPS will be obligated to deliver a first-class letter from East Bufu, Oklohoma (population 68 people, and 837 cows), to Seward, Alaska (population 2,736 people and 14 grizzly bears), for 55 cents, is the day that their privatized business model will stop being profitable.
1) UPS is not allowed to deliver first class mail to a letterbox, or at the same cost as USPS.
2) Why should short-distance mail subsidize long-distance mail?
So? They regularly leave packages on your porch, they'd do the same for letters.
> or at the same cost as USPS.
Which is insanely low and money-losing in many cases. And first-class mail is a declining business. Do they even want that?
Whether or not UPS wants the business is beside the point, and they currently cannot have it.
It's the entire point actually.
The key part of my post is:
> The day that UPS will be obligated... to deliver a letter for 55 cents
The USPS is forced to provide this service - at a ridiculously low price. The second that UPS and Fedex have to play by the same rules (By being forced to deliver negative-margin mail), they will stop being profitable.
We're only talking about first-class mail here, so a 6x cost advantage in first-class mail is very important.
The reason to privatize this one is because it has direct competitors, and does not accomplish anything which requires the powers of the federal government. Other departments such as the Department of Energy are not interchangeable with a private competitor, and perform functions which require direct federal involvement (guarding nuclear weapons and working with the armed services).
Some people (including myself) believe the federal government should be as small as possible, and the USPS is simply one of the easiest parts to spin-off/get rid of.
On the second point, doesn't almost every government service have direct competitors? Public vs private education. Public vs private security. Public vs private military. Public vs private roads.
On the third point, I'm a little confused what you mean: what are some examples of something that would require the powers of the federal government?
EDIT: the comment I was responding to got edited, so this seems a bit outdated: suggestions on what to do on HN when that happens? Delete? Update? No idea how to handle it :-)
edit: Here is the law https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/39/601
Certainly an enforcement of USPS' monopoly on letter delivery, but not a blanket price fixing across all mail items and types.
>" What is the direct competitor for bulk letter delivery? Historically that's not profitable so no private company does it and instead they all focus on the profitable package business, or edge case super-fast high cost delivery. "
So I responded with reasons why there was no competitor for letter delivery:
>" Well, the law currently requires that any competitor charge many times (7x if I recall correctly) more than the USPS for mail, and they are not permitted to use letter-boxes, so it is rather unsurprising that UPS and FedEx charge more for first class mail."
We were never talking about parcels.
Personally I tend to lean towards privatizing or eliminating the USPS, but the timing for this isn't good if you care about people being able to vote in the upcoming election. There are going to be hiccups when we really need the USPS to be working at top efficiency. Imagine if hundreds of thousands or millions of ballots are tossed because they didn't arrive in time due to delivery delays.
The USPS is funded nearly entirely by postage revenue. Why do you support privatizing it when it doesn't cost any taxpayer money?
The counter-argument to your second point is that no matter when you do this, it will be painful, so you might as well rip the bandage off as quickly as possible. You may find it unconvincing, but there it is.
>"I've got a pen and I've got a phone - and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward."
I am staunchly opposed to the continuous growth of these powers, but each party seems to support them when their guy is president, and Congress seems unwilling to take action.
I guess I keep getting hit by the "why now" part: is it worth privatizing the USPS now, which seems to save < $10B per year, to jeopardize the legitimacy of the election in a time of such deep uncertainty?
In some ways, this is comparable to the situation with DACA, in that it was important to the party in control of the executive branch, they didn't have the ability to pass legislation, and they thought it had to get done urgently.
Maybe this is so hard for me to see because I have very very fond memories of the post office. I had the same mail carrier deliver mail for almost all of my childhood. He became a pseudo-uncle to me. He was always there.
And it's hard for me to imagine that people have anything but love and tenderness for the USPS.
I have had mixed experiences with many different carriers, and have no particular fondness for any of the organizations, though some of the people (at each) have been very good, kind, and helpful.
I don't know why this was a priority for people in the current administration, though I view privatization of the USPS as a generally laudable goal.
After all these comments, I'm probably still leaning towards wanting it to stay public, but more open to privatization, and still quite vehemently unconvinced that now is the time to make that change. Again, thank you for all the conversation.
I think power utilities might be a better place to look at privatization - but most of those (like PG&E) end up frequently running afoul of a lack of oversight while also not really out-performing public power utilities.
1. Often times with insanely high barriers to entry sometimes including being "non-public"
2. To my knowledge the only defense-ish contractor folks that have gotten bailed out are the more public facing ones like Boeing which do mixed public/private work.
3. Though this industry has a terrible track record across the board for being accountable, profitable and responsible. I might point at VT Yankee https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_Yankee_Nuclear_Power_P... as an example where the company just tried to dissolve itself before paying for cleanup out of its contingency fee.
And she had something get lost a week ago, something that hadn’t happened in over a year (small sample size though).
We do know that the local USPS has cut back on the hours their employees are working, which is strange considering USPS is busier than ever.
UPS and FedEx do not have access. You have to be there when they drop off the package, or they're tossed into this hole (like a literal hole) next to the door, or they do the "we missed you" thing and sticky a note to the outer door and you pick it up in person.
I live a ten-minute drive away from the Pentagon. It's not just remote villages in Alaska that'd be inconvenienced by USPS going away.
I’m a strong advocate for vote by mail, and it never occurred to me that the USPS would not be there to handle ballot delivery and pickup.
I wonder if there are constitutional issues with this kind of change?
Also IIRC, Washington's (State) rule is received by certification, which is 21 (?) days after election day.
Changing to the Oregon rule is floated most every legislative session. We've successfully beaten it back. But one thing I learned as an election integrity activist is the Powers That Be will keep trying until they succeed.
Back in the day, the Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) rate was %1 for First Class mail. Meaning %1 of postal ballots were not received by voters. And %1 of cast postal ballots never got back to central count. In my county, that's over 10,000 ballots lost in a general election.
Anybody worried about USPS's performance should probably be doing their own measuring of UAA and other metrics.
Any way. I'm VERY CONCERNED about the USPS monkeying with stuff that ain't broke. Ensuring postal balloting works as expected takes A LOT of effort.
1) There are already private mail carriers (FedEx, UPS, et al.). They do not have an obligation to deliver mail in a timely manner anywhere in the continental US and overseas territories. This is fine if you are a city dweller, but private mail carriers notoriously do not guarantee "last mile" delivery. This will cut off many isolated rural communities for whom the USPS is a lifeline to the outside world.
2) USPS receives no tax dollars for their services. They are completely self-sustaining. A Republican congress forced an insane burden for the USPS to pre-fund 75 years worth of pension obligations: there are future postal workers who have not been born yet that the post office must plan pensions for. No other government entity has such an obligation - this is the only reason the USPS is in a financial problem and it is a manufactured crisis. There is no "small government" argument here since your tax dollars don't fund them.
3) The USO pledge states that the USPS must offer affordable rates to customers. Privatized companies have a market incentive to keep prices low, yes, but in practice there is no way that there won't be price collusion/fixing if a handful of private carriers become market dominant. Antitrust is laughably weak in the US right now.
4) DeJoy is using the manufactured crisis from pension obligations as a canard for slashing worker benefits and overpay to the bone. He is intentionally gutting the USPS so the Republicans can point at it and whine about how socialized enterprises don't work as well as private ones. This is why all mail is so delayed right now: postal workers rely on overtime to ensure that all mail is delivered in a timely manner.
This is the same obligation that private company pensions need to adhere to, because that is the responsible thing to do, with the difference being that the post office has to also fund retirement medical plans since, unlike a private company, those are mandated by congress and can only be changed with congressional approval.
I don't understand why this keeping getting called out, like it is an unusual burden to be responsible. In my humble opinion I think that all government pensions should be funded, because it is not fair for us to artificially lower costs now and expect everyone's children and grandchildren in the future to somehow pay for this generation's unfunded promises.
They are being forced to plan for the next 75 years now. in 2006 They were given 10 years to have the money needed for all pensions up to 75 years in the future. That is an unreasonable burden because no company does that. No company is planning 75 years from now on anything.
> In my humble opinion I think that all government pensions should be funded
No one is saying Pensions should stop being funded or paid out.
> because it is not fair for us to artificially lower costs now and expect everyone's children and grandchildren in the future to somehow pay for this generation's unfunded promises.
They are not artificially lowering costs, they were making a decent profit without this burden at the current price point. They were more then capable of meeting their obligations including pensions due now, and still making a decent profit. Nothing was being pushed off to future generations.
I'm reading that ALL pensions offered by private companies in the U.S. must be funded out for 75 years. I presume this is for good reason. Why should this not apply to the USPS or other local/state/federal/church employees?
I might not follow your reply, but you seem to be under the impression that the USPS is having to do something different than every private company, but that does not appear to be the case. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2020/04/14/post-office-p...
EDIT: with the exception of medical coverage, which is handled differently than private companies as per congress.
>in 2006 They were given 10 years to have the money needed for all pensions up to 75 years in the future.
That would seem to have been a heavy burden. I don't know all the particulars, but they seem to be past that now, right? Is this ten year catchup period still relevant to the conversation?
>Nothing was being pushed off to future generations.
Then why does the government mandate this same pension funding for all private company pensions? I assume it is because there were problems with bankrupt pensions in the past.
I think all government pensions should be responsibly funded. To do otherwise is basically tell our kids and unborn future generations that they can pay for our our lack of ability to make hard decisions. I just can't see where that's right.
I wonder why is it that only government workers have pension plans that everyone else knows are unaffordable?
Perhaps he'll get the public behind him enough to somehow stop mail-in voting if the next few months the mail system falls apart. Or if not and he loses the election, he'll blame it on the incompetent mail service and demand an election redo or whatever Trumpy things he normally does when he loses.
It seems to me that it's everything to do with the election, nothing to do with improving the USPS.
Mail is piling up in Iowa (where the person being interviewed is located) and from other reports all over the country.
Well maybe not in Texas or Florida where Trump depends on vote by mail.
Of course it all started as revenge against Amazon but it's nicely transitioned to manipulating the USPS for political benefits. In other words, business as usual.
One of the Postal Services problems is that senior management comes from USPS career employees whose loyalty is to the postal service employees - not the business itself or even its customers. The USPS needs new blood at the top and it needs to start acting like a for-profit business and less like a business that has been captured by its union.
This is untrue - without its pension pre-funding requirement it turns a modest profit each year.
Having had two relatives both be Post Masters you can damn well bet the slow down of mail is totally because they are purposefully doing it and not for hours cut. You underestimate the levels they go to. Both relatives recounted days where you would have bickering constantly and having to call in RCAs because two or more permanent employees were bitching over a truck or additions to a route and no mail would go out.
This same union had incredible influence over the poor working conditions RCA drivers suffer; these are all those personal vehicles marked up with PO logos and such. All with their guaranteed day but hoping for enough days to pay their bills. All having to suffer the whims of a regular PO employees who treat most of them like dirt. All this just so they can get their permanent position. Which should be done by the RCA with most seniority but this can be sabotaged quite easily by the regulars.
Sorry, this piece is election year drivel and you can expect story after story on every subject sure to come up in ads
The plural of anecdote is not data. Do you have anything solid to back up your claim that it is the postal union slowing down the mail service as a political move?
That's a bold statement and requires some strong evidence for me to believe it.