Recently, the Postmaster General of the United States testified that the USPS was almost $3 billion in the red last year, and faces losses nearing $6 billion this coming year. Such failure to remain solvent is not a fluke, and it should not come as a surprise to this site’s readers: the Post Office is a governmental corporation, with a monopoly on the delivery of first class mail, and like all monopolies, it is inefficient. That’s why, even with the cost of stamps doubling since 1985, a government-mandated monopoly, and a steady stream of tax dollars, the USPS cannot keep its head above water.
For those of us who value economic improvement over entropy and decay, freedom of choice over coercive paternalism, this is depressing. It’s frustrating to see the State–itself a monopoly—limit our choices and waste our tax dollars on yet another ongoing failure. But what can we do about it? The USPS is somewhat of a sacred cow. Many people consider it a staple of American life, even if they grumble about rate increases and long lines. To them, attacking the Post Office seems radical and perhaps even un-American. Is that a reasonable sentiment to hold for an inefficient, bureaucratic organization? No, probably not. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s not going to change anytime soon. Divesting a large number of people of deeply-rooted opinions by giving them red-lined USPS budget sheets and a copy of Atlas Shrugged won’t fix things, as much as we would all like it to.
If we truly believe competition and freedom of association are economically and morally superior, let’s prove it with our actions. Not by abolishing the Post Office, nor by convincing people that their support of that institution is simply for foolish sentimental reasons, but by competing. In many areas, this will mean two things. First, it will mean fighting to legalize competition. Rather than try to convince the public, or legislators, that the USPS should be abolished, simply fight to break its monopoly. UPS, FedEx and other companies do a great job of competing in the package delivery arena, let’s do the same for first class mail.
People will be much more open to a small businessman who simply wants to provide a service than they will to a political activist who wants to abolish the Post Office for reasons of political ideology. It will still be an uphill battle, especially on the federal level; there are a lot of government employees who want to guarantee their jobs by fighting anything that would limit their ability to control entry into the market. But, once again, the fight can and should be portrayed as one of creation—of jobs and opportunities–not destruction. Once entrepreneurs can get their feet in the door, the market will decide the rest.
The second step is to actually provide a good or service that’s currently being provided by some level of government—federal, state, county, or local. This might mean first fighting to legalize competition, as with the Post Office, or simply working in a more limited sphere than the one in which the government allows itself to operate. A good example is private schools, which operate within guidelines established by the State, but often have a great deal of autonomy and provide a better education than many public schools. In fact, private schools stand as a testament to the fact that private institutions can often provide a good or service that is so superior to the one provided by the State that people will be willing to pay twice—once in taxes for the public school their children do not attend, and again for the private school.
Another example of the market providing an alternative can be found in the Bershires region of Massachusetts, where they use a currency called the BerkShare. No one is forced to use the currency, nor are they forced to accept it for payment either. If the Berkshares becomes devalued through inflation, individuals are free to use another form of currency, or start their own, because BerkShares Inc. doesn’t hold a monopoly.
Providing alternatives and working to break government monopolies wherever possible won’t fix all of our problems, but it will increase individual liberty and economic growth, and stands a better chance of success than completely abolishing or attempting to fix broken government institutions. When people realize that they have options—good, free market options—the power of the State will decrease, because its services are substandard. And if the State manages to completely destroy itself with reckless spending and printing, which seems increasingly plausible, there will be an existing framework of businesses, organizations, and communities that provide goods and services better than the monopoly ever did.
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