Over at Balkanization, Guest Blogger Rebecca E. Zietlow offers an extended paean to the glories of the US Post Office and its purported role in helping "to create and sustain a healthy, functioning democratic nation":
Our Constitution gives the Federal Government a significant role in establishing a national community. The United State Postal Service fosters this community, and reflects this vision of national unity. Indeed, that may be exactly why the postal service is under attack. But I say, neither rain, not sleet, nor snow, nor Tea Party activist, should be allowed to stop the postal service from serving its function in our constitutional democracy.
Wow. What a load of [expletive deleted lest Matt Bodie accuse me of being uncivil].
Perhaps I'm just in a bad mood, having spent 45 minutes waiting in line at my local post office the other day. As regular readers know, I have chronic back problems, which make standing for extended periods range from uncomfortable to painful, so the experience was especially unplesant. But then, of course, it was capped when I finally got to the head of the line only to be confronted with a surly, slow, and inefficient postal worker who turned what should have been a brief transaction into an extended argument.
Of course, this is a mere anecdote. But similar experiences in the past have driven me to conduct as much of my personal communication outside the clutches of the Post Office as possible.
But now let's turn from the personal.
Ronald reagan famously said that the "the nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" Like the rest of the Federal Government (I understand that the Post Office's governmental status is unique, but that's irrelevant for present purposes), the Post Office is incompetent, inefficient, infuriating, and any number of other negative adjectives. Vutting the cord, as other nations have done, seems clearly the right answer:
The mammoth 685,000-person U.S. Postal Service is facing declining mail volume and rising costs. The way ahead is to privatize the USPS and repeal the company's legal monopoly over first-class mail. Reforms in other countries show that there is no good reason for the current mail monopoly. Since 1998, New Zealand's postal market has been open to private competition, with the result that postage rates have fallen and labor productivity at New Zealand Post has risen. Germany's Deutsche Post was partly privatized in 2000, and the company has improved productivity and expanded into new businesses. Postal services have also been privatized or opened to competition in Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Japan is moving ahead with postal service privatization, and the European Union is planning to open postal services to competition in all its 27 member nations.
All presumably without losing their national community.
Which brings me to this ridiculous idea of a national community. In Community and Statism: A Conservative Contractarian Critique of Progressive Corporate Law Scholarship, I blasted claims that large corporations can be considered communities:
… the communitarian model posits that “the retired teacher in California who has invested in Union Carbide through participation in [CalPERS], the factory worker in Pennsylvania, and the relatives of a dead peasant in central India all belong to a single community characterized by ties of mutual interdependence and a history of cooperative activity.” To his credit, David Millon elsewhere admits that the communitarian argument as applied to such firms strains credulity past the breaking point. The conservative contractarian concurs with Millon that any effort to ascribe communitarian values to multinational corporations is doomed. Instead, the conservative contractarian finds communitarian values in smaller settings: neighborhoods, churches, social clubs, and even pockets of the internet.
If the effort to ascribe communitarian values to multinational corporations is doomed, how much more so is any effort to call a nation-state the size of the USA a community?
The root problem with such claims is well stated by Roberta Romano, in her article, Metapolitics and Corporate Law Reform, 36 Stan L. Rev. 923, 948 (1984)
For a decentralized communitarian system to work, societal units, being predicated on the economic and political equality of their members, must possess attributes of smallness and sameness. These characteristics cannot survive within large hierarchical corporations, whose dynamics undermine and destabilize the egalitarian basis of social relationships.
The dynamics of Leviathan are even less suited to building community.
In sum, the Post Office is broken. It is out of date, obsolete, and incapable of competing. To continue pouring billions of tax payer dollars down that drain solely because of some highly romanticized vision of the dauntless mail carrier slogging through rain, sleet, and snow to connect some national community would be absurd.