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The Statist Approach to the Postal Service

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A perfect demonstration of the statist mindset appears in an editorial entitled “Free the Postal Service” published this week by the Los Angeles Times. The editorial shows how statists, unlike libertarians, are simply unable to break free of the statist box in which they have been born and raised. The result is that they live their lives coming up with all sorts of weird and contorted ways to make statism work.

The Times laments the never-ending difficulties of the Postal Service. To what does it attribute those difficulties? It’s all the fault of Congress. While the Postal Service is “supposed to be an autonomous, self-sufficient agency,” Congress “limits its independence by demanding the impossible.”

The Times then points to various conditions and restrictions that Congress has imposed on Postal Service operations. These include pension requirements, restrictions on the Postal Service’s ability to end Saturday mail delivery, and its “freedom” to set postal rates (although the Times does say that as part of such “freedom” the Postal Service should still have to respond to a “regulatory mechanism”).

What the Times just doesn’t get is that a government entity is not a private entity and it will never be a private entity. Therefore, the notion that all we have to do is let a government entity operate like a private entity is patently ridiculous.

One critically important thing that the Times editorial fails to mention is the monopoly privilege that the Postal Service has with respect to the delivery of first-class mail. That monopoly privilege is provided by the federal government. What it does is protect the Postal Service from competition from private firms in the delivery of first-class mail. If a firm violates the privilege by entering into competition, the first thing the Postal Service does is rush to the nearest federal judge to secure an injunction against the malefactor firm.

So, why doesn’t the Times endorse a repeal of the postal monopoly? After all, if the Postal Service is going to be an “autonomous, self-sufficient agency,” why shouldn’t it have to compete for customers just like any other private firm?

The answer is simple: Government businesses can’t compete against private-sector firms. Private-sector firms are more effective, more efficient, and more customer-oriented. Government entities, on the other hand, are abusive, inefficient, and inevitably cater to politicians and bureaucrats.

Both the Times and the Postal Service know that if the postal monopoly were repealed today, private firms would drive the Postal Service out of business post haste because customers would abandon the Postal Service in droves. That’s in fact the reason for the monopoly — to prevent people from doing that and thereby putting the Postal Service out of business.

So, what does the Times suggest the Postal Service should do? Well, be prepared for the possibility of dying of laughter but here is what the Times recommends. It wants the Postal Service to be “free” to diversify into a new array of services, such as (don’t laugh!) selling fishing licenses and shipping alcoholic beverages!

Wow! Why didn’t anyone think of that before now? What an ingenious plan for saving the Postal Service. If anyone can come up with anything more ridiculous than that to save the Postal Service, I’d love to hear it. But that’s what statism does — it induces people to go to desperate and ridiculous lengths to save their beloved governmental enterprises.

Notice something important about the statist mindset: It simply accepts as a given that the Postal Service must be a part of American life. That’s the given and then everyone is supposed to come up with his own cockeyed plan to make it work.

That’s the difference with libertarians. We know that that socialism can never work. A government enterprise like the Postal Service is doomed to fail. If it is permitted to continue existing, the government will have to grant it monopoly privileges and never-ending subsidies. Just ask anyone in the Soviet Union, which was filled with such enterprises.

Libertarians, unlike statists, have broken free of the statist box. We’re able to envision a world without the Postal Service. We say: Put the Postal Service out of its misery. Abolish it. It’s a dinosaur. Government has no more business delivering mail than it does running churches, operating banks, building houses, and manufacturing computers. That’s what the private-sector is all about.

The free market produces the best of everything, and government produces the worst of everything. Trying to come up with ways to bring success to socialist enterprises is a fool’s errand. The best thing we could ever do is rid ourselves of the Postal Service and turn over the delivery of all mail to the free market.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.