High Gas Prices
Are No Justification for Five-Day Mail Delivery
Burrus Update #09-08, July 8, 2008
Lately, special interest groups have begun to use rising gas prices as a way to advance their agenda — under the guise of reducing energy use and demand. Recent proposals to reduce mail delivery from six days a week to five are a case in point. These suggestions represent just another rationale by those who wish to privatize postal operations.
On June 25, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) that would require the Postal Service to study the cost effectiveness and fuel consumption of five-day mail delivery, and to survey consumer demand for Saturday delivery. Rep. Kingston called Saturday delivery “a perfect example of government waste that is driving up the price at the pump.”
In fact, the entire debate about the alleged connection between energy costs and demand for oil is bogus: The recent spike in gasoline prices bears little relationship to increased demand. Over the past year, the price at the pump has increased 36 percent, while demand in the United States has decreased. World-wide consumption, driven by the emerging economies in China and India, has increased less than 15 percent, while gas prices have increased 286 percent over the past 10 years.
All of the available evidence indicates that the wild swings in energy prices have been fueled by the fall in the value of the dollar and by the activities of energy speculators. These entrepreneurs trade “future energy rights” and amass fortunes, passing the artificially inflated costs on to trapped consumers.
Since there is little direct connection between demand and the ridiculously high gas prices, how can we account for the spate of recent proposals to reduce mail service from six days per week to five? Unfortunately, the suggestions are merely a smokescreen designed to lead to the demise of mail delivery by the USPS.
Throughout our history there have been forces who have attempted to profiteer in the performance of public services: These include efforts to outsource military operations, as well as every other form of government service.
Proposals for five-day mail delivery have been advanced since the 1970s, so it should come as no surprise that they have re-emerged under the guise of saving energy.
The Postal Service has the largest vehicle fleet in the country outside of the Department of Defense, so there may seem to be a superficial logic to the argument: If mail delivery is reduced from six days to five, the reasoning goes, fuel consumption by the Postal Service would be reduced by approximately 16 percent. Based on the faulty premise that gas prices are high because demand is high, the logic continues that if fuel usage is reduced, prices would be reduced accordingly.
But, in fact, a reduction in mail delivery from six days to five would have absolutely no effect on demand or on prices at the pump. What would be accomplished is that private mailing firms would fill the gap and we would be one step further down the road of privatized mail service.
Five-day delivery would have many unanticipated consequences: elderly citizens would wait longer for deliveries of prescription drugs; contractual deadlines would be unmet; service standards would be “adjusted;” many newspapers would no longer arrive in a timely manner; mail awaiting delivery would have to be stored. All of these consequences — and numerous other unintended consequences — would ensue, without any impact upon the price of gas at the pump.
Who would select the additional day of “non-delivery” and what day would it be? Would there be a corresponding reduction in postage rates commensurate to the 16 percent reduction in service customers would experience? If not, wouldn’t reduced service be tantamount to a rate increase? Would a 16 percent reduction in service without a corresponding reduction in postage rates exceed the inflation-based price cap required under the Postage Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006?
Mail delivery in our society has been an integral part of the social network, connecting every citizen six days of the week. Historically, Sunday has been the only day without mail delivery. But if delivery can be excluded on another day, wouldn’t two or three additional days without mail generate even more savings? Once we embark on that slippery slope, the drive for increased economic return would be continuous until the USPS was driven out of business: Think of all the gasoline that could be saved if there were no mail delivery.
If one wishes to gain a true perspective on the proposal to reduce delivery, I suggest that we look back: When gasoline was $1.20 per gallon there were those who advocated five-day delivery. When postal reform was under consideration in 2003, five-day delivery was suggested. When the mailbox monopoly was under attack, five-day delivery was proposed. Five-day delivery is a tired idea whose time has not come.
The energy crisis that has been imposed on the American public is just the most recent justification for this insidious proposal to reduce mail service to the American public from six days to five. The answer was “No” in 1998 and the answer in 2008 is still “No.” The American public deserves to be connected to the world via the mail six days per week, and we intend to continue to fight for that connection.