Posted by Jason | Posted in Economics, Government | Posted on 24-10-2010
The other week I was debating a guy on Facebook, who was telling me how government has to provide certain services. I’m pretty sure it began because of the Tennessee fire fighters watching a house burn down. Of course as most of these arguments go, the Postal Service was brought up.
The argument he was making was that the private sector would not deliver mail because it is not profitable for them. I mentioned that I used to work at UPS whenever they first went public (this was my first IT job). I specifically remembered that UPS wanted to get into mail delivery, but of course I was told I was just flat wrong. Apparently, my own memory, the reality I was living in, is just propaganda.
I was told I was wrong because UPS and Fedex could not profitably deliver mail to certain neighborhoods. Yeah, it would work out for most New Yorkers, but how about the little people in Alaska (his term not mine)? While, I’m sure he felt good that he was looking out for the “little people”, is he really? I asked why a person in Iowa should have to subsidize mail for someone who chooses to live in Alaska. Of course that fell on deaf ears. He then proceed to tell me those who live east of Pittsburgh (where I’m from) would be lucky to get mail twice a week if left to the free market. As you can tell, now it is not whether the free market would deliver mail. It’s whether it would deliver it as frequently as some anti-free market thinker believes it should be. This puts to bed the idea that the free market couldn’t deliver mail profitably. It obviously could. It’s just a matter of how it would do it.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that some areas would only get mail once a week. Oh the horror. Bills and bulk mail only once a week. I’m in! We could even say once every two weeks. The point is this is completely arbitrary and whatever is profitable is what makes sense for everyone. If it’s unprofitable in the free market to deliver mail 6 days a week, then it’s even more unprofitable when ran by the government, which has no competition. As I’ve pointed out in my blog about profits, profit is what directs resources to the most efficient use. If UPS or Fedex could not deliver mail everyday to certain areas, it’s because those residents don’t need the mail six days a week at the cost it would take to get it there. There is nothing evil about this. These are choices that people make. They chose where they live. They choose what they can afford and want given their scarce resources.
Of course with the government in control of mail delivery, they just force those who make better choices, as far as mail delivery goes, to subsidize those who do not. Instead of a person who can be delivered to profitably being able to get the most out of their hard earned resources, say paying half of what they do for mail and using the other half to buy something else, they are forced to hand it over for someone else’s choice to live in areas where it costs more to deliver. That other 50% of their resources would have given them more for their hard work, and it would have created new production in the economy.
If someone wants to have mail delivered to some outskirt six days a week, they should pay for it. Why is this considered evil? As with most government arguments, anti-free market thinkers see everything as static. If mail isn’t delivered six days a week to every mailbox in the US, the world would collapse. This just isn’t so. If mail wasn’t delivered six days a week to some places, those people would adapt. If they really needed something, they’d pay more to have it delivered. If they didn’t need something right away, they’d let it come at regular intervals, which would be when enough mail has accumulated to justify the resources.
Also, this is the age of the internet. Why should most mail be delivered six days a week. Talk about locking yourself into an old idea and wasting resources. If the free market were allowed to deliver mail, it would have already innovated well beyond our current system. There is a good chance much of it would be paid for by advertisers since they are the ones filling most mailboxes. As far as personal mail goes, most people use email, Facebook, text and that new innovation called the telephone to communicate. If something needs delivered urgently or someone purchases a product, they already typically use UPS and Fedex. Why? There’s a reason Dell computers don’t come through the post office. Ever see the first Ace Ventura?
There is nothing sacrosanct about mail delivery or the postal service. It is an old idea, whose time has passed. It is not economical, and actually hinders our progress. Private companies can provide everything people want as far as delivery services go. There is no service that is unprofitable that is at the same time a necessity. Profits only reflect the demand of consumers, and if there is no demand, there is no need. Unprofitable just means unwanted. I guess the best argument again the Postal Service, since it is unprofitable the way it is currently delivered, is no one wants it. Why should they be forced to have it?