The United States Postal Service (USPS) recently announced that it will cut Saturday delivery in August. The post office has been in the financial doldrums over the last few years, not least because of onerous pension obligations and a reliance on an increasingly obsolete service. The USPS is a government-sanctioned monopoly, largely insulated from competition. Its decision is consistent with this privileged status; in the face of financial difficulties, it simply reduces the quality of its service.
There is nothing wrong with a business manipulating its prices and practices when it is confronted with a budgetary dilemma. But there is something wrong when it fails to adequately serve customers while the state prohibits competition. In the private sector, businesses compete to provide the best for the least. In the case of the USPS, however, customer satisfaction can simply be sacrificed for financial health. After all, why worry about quality customer service when a competitor cannot put you out of business?
The least weak argument in favor of public mail delivery is that private enterprise could not profitably serve rural areas. For example, my grandfather often patronizes the post office in Centertown, Mo., a small town in Cole County. He prefers it to the one in Jefferson City, as there is never a wait. My guess is that the privatization of the USPS would spell the end of the Centertown branch, as well as countless other small town post offices across the state. Or perhaps they would remain, but mail delivery to and from such remote locations would be significantly more expensive.
Public support is likely necessary if many rural areas are to maintain their post offices, but this is not a justification for such support. Many things are relatively expensive for rural dwellers (e.g., Internet, gas to get to the grocery store); others are comparatively cheap (e.g., land). The reverse is true for urbanites. What sense does it make to subsidize something simply because it is comparatively expensive in a given area? The bottom line is that living in a particular locale comes with its unique set of costs. The most sensible route to take is to stop artificially reducing the cost of mail service in rural areas; let those who remain in these areas face the commensurate costs.
Privatizing the USPS, in short, makes both practical and moral sense.