The Shakespearean drama that is the U.S. Postal Service : The Indicator from Planet Money The rather Shakespearean situation of the U.S. Postal Service

What A Piece Of Work Is The Post Office

What A Piece Of Work Is The Post Office

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Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
A mail carrier delivers mail to an apartment building in Bethesda, Maryland on August 21, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

If all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; the United States Postal Service looks a lot like a heroic character, destined for a sticky end. The USPS provides a vital service to millions of Americans, but in these days of internet communication and rideshare delivery, its revenues are falling, and its losses are mounting. That's given business-minded politicians and pundits the opportunity to recast the Post Office as a villain. Not the kind of glamorous roister-doister who robs banks and lives on a yacht. Rather, a slothful, good-for-nothing wretch, who cannot be reformed and is doomed to be a drain on the public purse forever.

The Post Office needs to be run like a business, the argument goes. Costs need to be cut, and the service should be transformed into a profit center. The problem is that the Post Office wasn't designed to make money: it was designed to be a public service and cannot solely be driven by profit and loss.

It's that tension, between public service and profit, that's behind the Post Office's woes today. The USPS is playing the starring role in a desperate tragedy, which could end in its demise and the end of our democracy! Or perhaps not, and all will end well. Today, we tell the Shakespearean tale of the Post Office, in five acts. With deference and deep apologies to the Bard of Avon.

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