Is A Privatized Post Office Better?

Not everyone thinks the U.S. Postal Service is worth saving. Tad DeHaven of the Cato Institute says spiraling costs and uncertain revenues can be solved with privatization. Host Michel Martin and DeHaven discuss what a private postal service might look like.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's get another perspective now. Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst with the Cato Institute. That's a libertarian think tank here in Washington, D.C. That means that the group generally favors a minimal government role where possible. He joins us now from member station WITF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Welcome to you, thank you for joining us.

TAD DEHAVEN: Hi Michel, thank you for having me on.

MARTIN: Now you've argued that it's not worth trying to save the postal service as a government agency and that a better idea is to try to privatize that service. How so?

DEHAVEN: Yeah, I think a mistake that the congressman makes is in assuming that by privatizing or - nobody's talking about eliminating postal mail delivery in this country. The question is going forward, are we going to start going back to the days of taxpayer subsidies, or are we going to privatize it and let competition and markets sort of figure out what this country wants and needs? And unfortunately the status quo is not sustainable.

Just about everybody acknowledges it's unsustainable and so, you know, he made reference to the auto industry, that people wanted to get rid of the auto industry. Well, that's ridiculous. Does he not know the difference between bankruptcy and something disappearing? There's nothing wrong with restructuring and figuring out a way to privatize services. And again, it's about choice. And just because you're moving...

MARTIN: Well, let's focus our arguments on the arguments, rather than the congressman because, unfortunately, we couldn't sync your schedules up so you could talk to each other. There was no lack of a desire to speak to each other. We just couldn't get you together at the same time, so. So tell me why privatizing the system would be better.

DEHAVEN: Well, because I think we finally figure out what Americans want. The government doesn't operate grocery stores, clothing stores. These are obviously important things and, you know, if you look at — you know, people point to the Constitution and say, it's in the Constitution, postal — look, you know, what's in the Constitution is that Congress can establish postal routes and postal offices and, you know, a couple hundred years ago, the mail went on a post route to a post office and then a private carrier delivered it. And it was actually private carriers that first introduced stamps in this country.

What we have today, this six days a week all over the - you know, up to somewhere in Alaska is a creation of Congress and, in the 21st century, when we have text, Twitter; all these email, all these other things, we need to try and figure out what makes the sense. And the only way to figure out what makes most sense is see what people are willing to pay and what kind of services they want.

But this one-size-fits-all monopoly isn't going to work. Technology's undermining that monopoly and so what are we going to do about it going forward? Put it on taxpayers?

MARTIN: Two quick questions for you in the time that we have left, and it's a rich topic and I hope we'll return to it. But Congressman Towns made an argument, and others have made a second one. The first argument he made is that this institution has been such a significant employer, particularly of people who have not gotten a fair shake from private employers, that that alone is worth preserving it.

The other argument that people make is one you alluded to. In rural areas, the postal service is the only game in town and that it would be cost-prohibitive and that would be a kind of a cost to our social cohesion if people in rural areas don't have access at affordable rates to a service that allows them to essentially connect with others. What's your answer to those two questions?

DEHAVEN: Well, first, the rural issue. Nobody forces anybody to live in the middle of Montana - and the fact of the matter is, is the federal government, the taxpayers already subsidizing rural broadband, rural electricity. And with regard to mail, is it the social cohesiveness, what binds the nation together, or is it Verizon, AT&T, Facebook and things of that nature? And again, the only way to figure out...

MARTIN: OK. And on the employment question? And on the employment question?

DEHAVEN: Oh, on the employment question. If you look at what's going to be downsized, it's not going to be the urban areas and, you know, I think we should be, you know, looking at the black community and I have a nephew. My godson is biracial and I wouldn't tell him that your future lies in a — a antiquated government agency. I would be saying to him, go out and be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Be the entrepreneur. You have these talents, skills and these current workers — these are some opportunities for, you know, urban employees to have the freedom to compete against their old boss and see if they can do better.

MARTIN: OK. Well, hopefully, you'll tweet our conversation, too. OK?

DEHAVEN: I will.

MARTIN: Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst with the Cato Institute. He joined us from member station WITF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Tad, thank you so much for joining us.

DEHAVEN: Thank you, Michel.

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