The Maryland Public Policy Institute
Last week I wrote that “nothing is sacred” when it comes to budget cuts; that we needed to examine everything that we have come to accept as a “given” of modern society if we want to get the budget under control. Today, I will begin a brief series expanding on that -- giving a few examples of what “nothing is sacred” really means to me. As a preface, I will state that these are “off the top of the noggin” ideas, and are meant more to start a discussion than as final solutions to our problems.
I’ll start with the post office, as that was what I highlighted last week. Right now, the postal service isn't a major drain on government finances -- they claim to have received no taxpayer money since 1980 -- but this post assumes that that will change in the coming years since the organization is billions in the red.
I asked: “Do we really need mail delivered to our home six days a week?” I submit that we do not -- not in the slightest. For most people, the mail consists of junk (which we throw out), bills (which we pay and then throw out), and the occasional birthday card (which we read and then throw out) or package (which, hopefully, gets used before it is thrown out). Oh, and let’s not forget Netflix DVDs. They enjoy a particular distinction as one of the only types of mail that hardly ever gets thrown out.
Do we really need to receive these things every single day? Could we perhaps afford to cut it down to two days a week? What about just once a week? That would be an exciting day indeed! But is it possible to get rid of home delivery entirely?
I’m not exactly sure how it worked in “the olden days,” but I have a hard time imagining that the mail went out to everyone in the country every single day. Most likely, people would stop by the post office every once in a while and ask if there were any letters being held for them. We could do the same thing today, except now we have a few significant advantages. Namely:
· More numerous post offices -- and cars to get us to them more quickly.
· Cell phone and email communications as a substitute for passing messages via snail mail.
· Computers to serve as auto-responders alerting people to the fact that they’ve “got mail.”
Imagine a world that has adapted to the absence of a daily mail service. Your bills are all handled online. Most of your communications are handled over email or the phone. You don’t have to deal with recycling catalogs and flyers every day. And in those rare cases when you actually have received something worthwhile (like a birthday card or a package), you would get an email notification telling you to stop by your local post office to pick it up.
Aside from the money we would save by not paying mail carriers to make their rounds six times a week, the environmental impact would be huge. Imagine all the gas that would no longer be consumed and the paper that would no longer be wasted!
There would undoubtedly be some layoffs, but some mail carriers would need to be reassigned to local branches to sort mail into the appropriate location and to deal with the increased crowds that would be created by more people stopping by on a regular basis. Post offices would likely need to be expanded, and new locations added, which would provide some temporary boost to construction employment.
Over time, this new, leaner operation could save the taxpayers millions or even billions that will no-doubt soon be necessary due to declining revenues in future years -- and all by scaling back something that most of us don’t even care about but have grown to take for granted.